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    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.

    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, February 27, 2007

Top NASA scientist wants no more coal power - biomass to the rescue?

One of the world's top climate scientists, geoscientist James Hansen delivered an address to the National Press Club, in Washington, D.C., calling for the United States to end the building of new coal-fueled power plants and begin dismantling those in operation now that do not scrub high levels of carbon dioxide emissions. Hansen is the director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in New York City, which conducts research on changes in the Earth's surface temperature.

In his briefing to leaders of the press corps, entitled "Global Warming: Connecting the Dots from Causes to Solutions", Hansen said that evidence in the international scientific community shows global warming is occurring at a much faster pace than earlier forecasts predicted and that the burning of coal is a leading cause of elevated levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which traps heat via the so-called greenhouse effect.
"There should be a moratorium on building any more coal-fired power plants until the technology to capture and sequester the (carbon dioxide emissions) is available. [...] This is a hard proposition that no politician is willing to stand up and say it's necessary. [...] all coal-burning power plants that don't capture the CO2 will have to be bulldozed." - James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
Hansen criticized climate denialists by saying that "the assumption that it takes thousands years for ice sheets to change is very wrong. [...] Because of the melting of the ice sheet, the sea level is now rising at the rate of about 35cm per century. [...] But the concern is that it is a very non-linear process that can accelerate," he said. Such a non-linear process might result in what is known as 'Abrupt Climate Change' (ACC), in which case drastic 'geo-engineering' measures on a planetary scale will have to be implemented (earlier post).

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, coal-fueled power plants produce about half of the electricity consumed in America. Plans currently call for the construction of some 160 new coal-based facilities to meet future energy needs over the next decade.

Hansen said the U.S. Congress should pass legislation to scale back the construction of these plants, but if it does not, "citizens must accomplish this." The leading scientist, who has been an outspoken critic of the Bush administration's energy policy in the past, said that the offset in electric power could be compensated by increased efforts in producing energy more efficiently.

Carbon capture and storage
Mr Hansen said the technology to capture carbon dioxide "is probably five or 10 years away":
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Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a technique to sequester carbon emissions underground. Different options exist, such as storing the carbon in depleted natural gas and oil fields, in saline aquifers (earlier post) or in the form of a liquid (earlier post). Carbon leakage risks remain and are being studied further before the technology can be applied on a large scale (earlier post). However, several CCS pilot projects are currently already underway (earlier post).

Biomass to the rescue
CCS technologies can be applied to gas and coal power plants, but they can also be used on power plants that burn renewable and carbon-neutral biomass or biogas. Solid biofuels are currently the cheapest of all fuels (compared to coal, gas, nuclear, wind and solar) (earlier post), and they could be grown efficiently, sustainably and on a very large scale in the tropics and the sub-tropics (earlier post).

When CCS technologies are used in combination with the burning of carbon neutral biomass, this results in a system commonly known as 'Bio-Energy with Carbon Storage' (BECS). The concept is a radical carbon-negative energy system: as the biomass fuel grows in plantations, it takes CO2 out of the atmosphere and stores it in the plants; when burned as a fuel in the power plant, the released carbon is stored underground. The net effect is a reduction in atmospheric carbon. No other energy concept can achieve this (earlier post). Solar, wind, tidal, wave or nuclear power can be carbon-neutral at best.

Scientists came up with the idea of BECS in the context of 'Abrupt Climate Change', which Hansen is hinting at. They consider the concept to be the most feasible and cost-effective geo-engineering option. Other strategies, such as seeding the atmosphere with sulfur, or the oceans with fertiliser, are risky; using 'synthetic trees' or launching a gigantic mirror into space to reflect the Sun, are very costly (on these strategies, see our previous post).

In case ACC were to occur, scientists think BECS could take us back to pre-industrial CO2 levels within a matter of a few decades, and thus avert the worst catastrophes.

Coal mining sector reacts
Luke Popovich, a spokesperson for the National Mining Association, which represents the interests of U.S. coal producers, reacted to Hansen's lecture. He told the Associated Press that Hansen's comments "ought to be vetted by those who have an understanding of the energy demands placed on the U.S. economy." Popovich added that "When seen in light of those demands, then statements like that will appear unreasonable, to put it charitably."

Hansen's remarks in Washington coincide, unintentionally, with a transaction in the business world in which private financiers today announced that they will acquire one of the largest energy suppliers in the U.S. and cancel plans to develop several new coal-fueled power plants. A group led by equity specialists Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. said it has offered US$32 billion to assume ownership of TXU Corp., the largest supplier of electricity in Texas, and that the board of the energy giant has accepted the offer.

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Brazil increases biodiesel target to 5% by 2010 on rising production potential

State news agency Agência Brasil announces [*Portuguese] that the country's biodiesel production capacity will surpass the 1.3 billion liter per year mark by the middle of this year. This is around 60% above the total needed to reach a target put forward earlier by the government. This target - falling under the country's new 'Pro-biodiesel program' (earlier post) - aims to replace 2% of all fossil diesel with biodiesel, by 2013.

According to Arnoldo de Campos, the coordinator of the National Program for Biodiesel Production and Use, the increased capacity means the deadline can be brought forward by three years, to 2010, and the target increased to 5%.

There are currently 11 biodiesel factories in Brazil producing 640 million liters of biodiesel per year, but when a further 13 factories come online in the first half of this year, total production is expected to reach 1.3 billion liters a year.

“That is almost double what is needed to fulfil the 2 percent of biodiesel to be added to diesel, scheduled for January 2008. That is, a year early, and we have more than enough capacity to respect the deadlines and as production is increasing rapidly we can bring forward the 5 percent target, which was set for 2013, to 2010,” said de Campos.

Oil independence
As well as producing a less polluting fuel, the biodiesel program should also make it possible for Brazil to stop importing diesel alltogether. Brazil’s current diesel consumption stands at around 40 billion liters and 5 percent of that amount, or 2 billion liters, is imported.

"We are now close to importing half of what we used to import as it can be replaced with biodiesel and, soon, when we reach the level of 5 percent of biodiesel in diesel, we will stop importing diesel," says de Campos:
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With ethanol already supplying 70% of Brazil's gasoline needs, the country's added biodiesel program will allow total independence of foreign oil imports.

Diversity of biodiesel feedstocks
By the end of the year, 24 factories will thus be operational, the biodiesel feedstocks for which will be made up by soja (60%) and by castor beans (20%). Castor beans are harvested from the castor oil plant (Ricinus communis), belonging to the family of Euphorbiaceae, to which Jatropha curcas also belongs. The remainder is composed of a diverse range of primary feedstocks such as palm oil, canola, sunflower and waste vegetable oils.

"Castor and sunflower will be supplying the market on a massive scale before the end of the year, when the largest-ever sunflower harvest will occur - based on a large planting effort that began earlier this year - and the second-largest castor harvest."

According to Adriano Pires, economist at the Centro Brasileiro de Infra-estrutura (CBIE), a bioenergy consulting firm, soja is currently the most favorable biodiesel feedstock. He thinks other sources will remain marginal for the foreseeable future, though the potential to use them is large.

"Contrary to the ethanol program, which relies solely on sugarcane, the biodiesel program makes use of a wide variety of feedstocks, which allows for flexibility in the supply chain", adds Pires.

Picture: Castor oil plant.

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NanoDynamics licences biofuel technology based on nanotech process intensification

NanoDynamics, Inc., a diversified nanotechnology and manufacturing company, announced the signing of an exclusive license agreement with Global Technex Pty of Brisbane Australia. The agreement is part of a project that marries NanoDynamics’ new 'ND Fusion' process intensification technology with Global Technex’ strategic plan to bring new technologies into the Australian biofuels industry.

The ability to economically convert sugarcane process streams to ethanol creates a potentially sweet deal for Australia, which has an abundant sugarcane crop and a heavy reliance on imported oil. The ultimate goal of the project is to build a large-scale ethanol production facility in Queensland, Australia to provide ethanol to the Australian market.

NanoDynamics intervenes in biofuels 'process intensification'. Developed in the1970’s as a means to reduce production plant size and capital costs in the oil industry, the concept has more recently evolved into a pathway to ‘Green Chemistry’; the design of chemical processes that reduce or eliminate the use and generation of hazardous substances in an energy efficient manner. The company's 'ND Fusion' technology is based on a patent-pending rotating tube reactor that provides extremely high mixing, heat and mass transfer rates in thin, highly sheared films on the walls of the reactor to create chemical processes that are cleaner, smaller, safer, faster, cheaper, and more efficient.

It is kind of efficiency increases - the result of better process design (earlier post) and new fermentor technologies - that has allowed ethanol producers in Brazil to push back costs by 75% over the past 25 years (earlier post), a process that is expected to continue over the coming decades. Analists predict this trend could result in a doubling of the already impressive field-to-tank yield of sugarcane ethanol (earlier post).

There are many pathways to the production of ethanol but sugars are readily fermented through the use of yeasts, which consume the sugar and excrete ethanol as a by product. Still, the process is not without challenges:
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Yeasts are living organisms that can be fickle and require just the right combination of conditions and time to produce the maximum amount of ethanol and once the yeast produces ethanol, it must be purified and separated from the yeast, water and nutrient wort in which it was produced. All this can be time consuming and capital intensive. The ND Fusion technology provides for faster, higher, more efficient ethanol yields by boosting fermentation without damaging fragile yeast cells and generates higher purity ethanol with significantly lower energy and capital expenditures than traditional processing methods.

In Australia, Prime Minister John Howard recently reaffirmed government commitment to the development of an Australian biofuels industry including excise concessions for alternative fuels as well as a total of AUD$41.2 million in production grants to fuel ethanol. Given Australia’s healthy sugarcane crop, 80%+ of which is exported, and a growing dependence on imported oil, Global Technex and NDFusion are well-poised to provide solutions.

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Thai ethanol makers face large surplus

Quicknote bioenergy policies
In september 2006, a military coup removed Thailand's PM Thaksin Shinawatra from office and installed a provisional government. This new government has introduced several changes to key laws, amongst them a restriction of the Foreign Busines Act.

Similarly, the government decided to abandon the ousted Thaksin regime's plan to totally replace octane-95 with gasohol-95, a gasoline blend made with 10% ethanol.

The Thai Ethanol Manufacturing Association, led by Thai Sugar Miller Co, says the country is seeing a large surplus of ethanol, which is the result of the huge production capacity that emerged after Thaksin's policy. It is urging the new government to stop the sale of octane-95 petrol in March.

Association president Siriwut Siempakdi said there will be 15 ethanol plants producing 2.1 million litres a day (approximately 9000 barrels of oil equivalent per day) by year end. Another 30 plants with 8.9 million litres (48,000 barrels of oil equivalent) per day capacity are planned, he said, so with a current daily demand of 350,000 litres, a surplus of 11 million litres (48,000 barrels of oil equivalent) per day will be emerge [entry ends here].
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Transport crucial to meeting Kyoto targets, but EU policies failing - report

In the context of the Kyoto Protocol, the EU has committed to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by 8%, compared with 1990 levels, before 2012.

Transport is responsible for around one fifth of all GHG emissions in the EU.

In 2001, the EU set out a ten-year strategy to make its transport sector more sustainable, mainly by breaking the link between growth in transport and economic growth and by shifting towards more sustainable transport modes (intermodality), such as railways, water transport and public transport.

But according to a new report from the European Environment Agency, this strategy is not yielding strong results. The Commission's mid-term review of the White Paper, adopted in June 2006, makes no reference to curbing overall transport growth, instead advocating the "decoupling of transport growth from its negative effects". Recent proposals aimed at introducing cleaner fuels such as biofuels and imposing caps on CO2 emissions from cars and airplanes also appear to go in this direction.

The EEA report, "Transport and Environment: on the way to a new common transport policy" [*.pdf], says that despite the new measures, European transport policy must deal more strongly with spiralling demand for transport. Between 1990 and 2003, passenger transport volumes in the EEA countries grew by 20%. Air transport grew the most, 96%, during this period:
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While emissions from most other sectors (energy supply, industry, agriculture, waste management) dropped between 1990 and 2004, emissions from transport increased substantially driven by this increase in demand.

Transport is responsible for 21 % of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the EU-15 (excluding international aviation and maritime transport). Road transport contributes 93 % of the total of all transport emissions. However, emissions from international aviation are growing fastest with an increase of 86 % between 1990 and 2004.

GHG emissions (excluding marine and aviation) from transport grew the most in Luxembourg and Ireland between 1990 and 2004 with respective increases of 156 and 140 %. The average increase in the 32 EEA member countries was 25 %.

“By suggesting that we simply deal with the environmental impacts of transport, the mid term review of the 2001 White Paper on Transport could be interpreted as a softening of Europe’s line on the need to deal with transport volumes. This cannot be the case,” said Professor Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director of the EEA.

“We cannot deal with the increasing GHG emissions, noise pollution and landscape fragmentation caused by transport without dealing with the increasing traffic across the spectrum: on our roads and railways, in the air and by sea. Technical advances, such as cleaner, more fuel efficient engines are very important but we cannot innovate our way out of the emissions problem from transport.” she said.

The report also highlights the significant role that transport subsidies play in terms of directing transport choices. Between €270 and €290 billion is spent annually in Europe in transport subsidies. Almost half of these subsidies go to road transport, one of the least environmentally friendly modes. The EEA will release a detailed study of transport subsidies in March 2007

Pollution from transport is also having a direct effect on our health. Almost 25% of the EU-25 population live less than 500 meters from a road carrying more than three million vehicles per year. Consequently, almost four million life-years are lost each year due to high pollution levels, the report says.

More information:

EEA: Transport and environment: on the way to a new common transport policy [*.pdf, 5071 KB]
EurActiv: Report: 'EU transport policies failing on climate' - Feb. 26, 2007

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