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    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.

    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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Friday, March 02, 2007

Spanish company Aurantia to invest in Congo's palm oil sector for biodiesel

According to CongoPlus and sources in Brazzaville, Spanish company Aurantia is investing in a cluster of palm plantations in the Republic of Congo with the aim to produce biodiesel from the oil. After a visit with president Denis Sassou-Nguesso, CEO Rafaël Naranjo Anegon announced that Aurantia will be building four oil palm mills to process fresh fruits from a plantation that will cover several thousand hectares.

Anegon said his group has acquired recent experience with the nascent biodiesel industry in Africa and with its potential, most notably in Mozambique, Senegal and Guinea. Feasibility studies are already underway, with the aim to analyse the different plantation and mill sites, and to assess the state of the existing logistical infrastructure in the country. The actual size of the investment was not disclosed.

Congo-Brazzaville is currently a minor producer of palm oil. The country is host to parts of the world's second largest rainforest, that of the Congo Basin (see picture, click to enlarge), which spans the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo-Kinshasa), the Central African Republic, Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea.

In Congo-Brazzaville, the dense tropical rainforest mainly stretches over the Northern part of the country, whereas in the center and the South, it is covered by mosaic, secondary forest and large savanna type vegetation. Even though the country has strict rules in place to regulate forestry and to make it more sustainable, illegal logging remains a major problem.

However Congo's sustainable bioenergy potential was recently highlighted in a study commissioned by the EU and carried out by the CIRAD, which showed that Congo has around 12 million hectares of land suitable for the establishment of woody energy crop plantations (such as eucalyptus and acacia). This potential was calculated by explicitly taking into account stringent sustainability criteria (earlier post):
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A major Canadian company with a vast eucalyptus plantation in Congo recently invested in a 500,000 ton wood chipping plant, one of the world's largest, with the ultimate aim of supplying the rapidly growing global biomass market (earlier post).

Even though the Spanish company's project is expected to yield a significant number of employment opportunities for Congo's largely impoverished population, it did not offer any insights into how it sees itself within the context of sustainability and of the fragility of Congo's environment, neithor into how it would guarantee its palm oil is produced in an environmentally friendly manner. The company is not (yet) listed as a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, a multi-stakeholder organisation uniting NGOs, governments and the private sector with the aim of making palm oil production more sustainable.

Article continues

The bioeconomy at work: plant-based thermoset resins developed

Thermoset resins are some of the most commonly used materials in the construction, furniture and automotive industries. World demand currently stands at around 25 million tonnes per year for the product that is used to make a wide variety of composite materials from particleboard to glass fibre panels and fighter jet wings.

At present all the raw materials used in these resins are derived from petrochemicals, and the toxicity and volatility of starting materials such as formaldehyde require careful environmental, health and safety monitoring. But there will soon be a new, greener alternative on the market based on a new generation of ‘bio-resins’ – thermoset resins derived principally from vegetable oils.

Research supported by the UK's Sustainable Technologies Initiative [*.pdf] shows how the renewable polymers could offer a commercially viable alternative that would help manufacturers to meet tighter environmental regulations and reduce consumption of finite petrochemical resources. They would meet growing demand for more environmentally friendly resins that are competitive in price and performance and adaptable to existing composite manufacturing processes.

In the REPLANT project, a research team from the BioComposites Centre at the University of Wales, Bangor, who specialise in renewable plant technology, worked with industrial partners Cambridge Biopolymers, a contract manufacturer and a resin end-user. The project was supported by the DTI through the Sustainable Technologies Initiative, a programme to improve the sustainability of UK business. STI research aims to achieve economic growth and employment while safeguarding the environment and conserving natural resources.

"There is a clear place in the market right now for new, more environmentally friendly resins that are competitive in price and performance, and adaptable to existing processes for manufacturing composites," says project manager Dr Paul Fowler. "The growing interest reflects the demand for alternative, renewable sources of thermosetting resins that will begin to address the depletion of finite resources and reduce emissions."

A key goal of the project was to develop a thermosetting resin system derived from vegetable oils such as rapeseed oil, which is widely grown in the UK. As well as being based on renewable resources and offering new markets for UK producers, the new generation of bio-resins have other important attractions. Their use would avoid health and safety issues arising from the present reliance on phenol and formaldehyde in making conventional thermoset resins. Emissions of these volatile chemicals are regulated in the workplace and there are concerns over the slow release of formaldehyde from products such as particle board at the point of use. An added bonus of a switch to bio-resins would be a cut in carbon emissions as the growing crops absorb greenhouse gases:
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"Our clean and green chemical processing technologies make it possible to produce bio-resins from renewable resources," says Dr Fowler. "We’ve succeeded in developing a low effluent manufacturing procedure that’s based on the use of vegetable oil, water, air and electricity and yields formaldehyde-free products with excellent performance characteristics."

A key step was the development of a technique known as ozonisation to turn the vegetable oil into thermosetting resin. Patent applications have been made for the novel process technology, which is based on the use of ozone gas, and operates at ambient temperature. The clean, low effluent manufacturing process yields formaldehyde-free products with a high solids content of over 75%. Development of the new process is expected to appeal to thermoset manufacturers by making it easier for them to meet health and safety regulations in the workplace as well as demand from customers for greener products that are formaldehyde free.

In demonstration trials on factory production lines, the bio-resins performed well. Performance matched that of petrochemical resins. The trials demonstrated that the process is capable of working on an industrial scale and commercialisation is expected to follow. The first applications are likely to be in selected insulation products, with future potential in industries ranging from electronics to automotive, construction materials, furniture, foundry and engineered wood products.

"Our long-term aim is partial replacement with a bio-based alternative of the many hundreds of thousands of tonnes of petrochemical-derived thermoset resins that are currently used in the UK and rest of Europe every year," says Dr Fowler. "As well as helping us to develop the bio-resin technology, the STI project has demonstrated the sound economic, environmental and social gains that would accrue."

For rapeseed growers, the project could open up a valuable potential market outside the food and biodiesel industries. The outcome should provide a significant advance in the industrial usage of agricultural crops, with a market for tens of thousands of tonnes of oilseeds per year.

Substituting bio-resins could also help to meet UK government targets on environmental CO2 by reducing greenhouse gases. Growing rapeseed has the effect of sequestering carbon dioxide from the air. For every tonne of bio-resin produced approximately 2.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide would be fixed.

Energy savings could be an added benefit as rapeseed meal, left over when oil is extracted, can be used to generate electricity. By producing oil on the same site as bio-resins the recovered energy could be used to power the ozonisation process.

Article continues

France resists last-minute push for EU renewables target, as UK makes spectacular U-turn

The European Commission's ambitious proposal to increase the EU's share of renewable energies to a mandatory 20% of the bloc's overall consumption by 2020 (earlier post), which was endorsed by the Union's Environment ministers (earlier post) is being resisted by leading nuclear energy power France, despite last-minute efforts by Germany and a recent spectacular U-turn by Britain.

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair confirmed on 1 March 2007 that the UK will support the proposal at the crucial EU summit on 8-9 March, in a move that effectively overrules British Industry Secretary Alistair Darling. This is seen as a great victory for the EU, which always has to try to overcome national interests, and Britain....

"We believe we have to be ambitious and therefore we have to support the proposal for a binding EU-wide 20% target for renewables," the spokesman said, adding that the EU needed to be ambitious if is to convince other countries, including the US and China, to take action on climate change.

At a meeting on 15 February, energy ministers backed the 20% share target but insisted that it be kept as a flexible objective "taking into account national circumstances".

Germany, currently holding the rotating Presidency of the European Union, will chair the March summit, also hopes to make progress on renewables as part of efforts on climate change that will culminate with a G8 summit it will host in the Baltic Sea resort Heiligendamm on 6-8 June. Denmark, Sweden, Spain, Slovenia and Italy are all said to be firmly in the camp of those supporting a binding EU target.

But France, backed by Poland and other reluctant EU members, said that it prefers keeping 'flexibility' on the matter - eurolingo for defending 'national interests':
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"We are not in favour of fixing binding targets in renewable energy," said a French official after a meeting of EU ambassadors in preparation for the summit on 28 February. "It is up to each member state, in all flexibility and subsidiarity, to set its own objective. Our position has not changed."

France prefers that the summit limits itself to supporting a binding target on greenhouse gases, an objective that leaves it sufficient flexibility to bank on its strong nuclear industry, which is low in carbon intensity. France derives 880% of its own energy needs from its nuclear power plants - the largest national share in the world - and also exports much of this energy to neighboring countries.

However, French President Jacques Chirac may also decide to exit with a flourish, in what will be his last European summit before he steps down in May.

France and Poland's resistance versus the UK's decision to join Germany, the European Commission and other member states, has now raised the stakes of the crucial Spring Summit that will take place in Brussels on 8-9 March 2007.

Picture: President of the European Commission José Emannuel Barroso during the presentation of the Commission's new energy policy proposal.

More information:
EurActiv: France resists last-minute push for EU renewables target, March 2, 2007

Article continues

The bioeconomy at work: Italian farming association advocates EU-wide switch to biodegradable bags

Sergio Marini, the newly appointed president of the Italian farming industry association Coldiretti, Europe's largest, has met with EU agricultural commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel in Brussels, appealing to her for replacement of all non-biodegradable plastic bags in the EU by biodegradable ones by the year 2010.

Marini argued that 1.4 million tones of carbon dioxide emissions and 700,000 tonnes of petroleum can be saved in Europe each year through substitution of conventional plastic bags with bags made out of biodegradable plastics (earlier post).

According to Marini, the switch would require use of three million hectares of agricultural land, or 1.5 percent of the present cultivated area in the 27 countries of the EU, to produce the amount of maize and sunflower needed to support such a switch for all the 100 billion bags that are today mainly imported from China, Thailand and Malaysia.

Conventional plastic bags result in one million tonnes/year of waste in the environment that can take 200 years to decompose and they also pollute marine environments (earlier post). One quarter of all plastic bags used in the EU are consumed in Italy:
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Marini continued by saying that 0.5kg of maize and one kg of sunflower oil are sufficient to produce around 100 bioplastic shopping bags with an environmental effect justifying the present higher cost at eight cents for a biodegradable bag against five cents for one made in traditional plastic, with the biodegradable bag cost on a downward trend.

Coldiretti is involved in a bio-refinery project with bioplastics producer Novamont that has proposed using land set aside by the EU rules to grow the materials needed for bioplastics production.

Article continues

Cuba and Venezuela agree to build 11 ethanol plants, co-operate on biofuels

As part of a series of bilateral agreements on 'mutual development' towards the 'Bolivarian Alternative', Cuba and Venezuela have agreed [*Spanish] to co-operate on the construction of 11 ethanol plants that will use sugarcane as a feedstock and that, besides liquid transport fuel, will deliver renewable electricity to the grid, obtained from burning bagasse.

During the closing ceremony of the VIIth 'Reunión Mixta Cuba-Venezuela', Cuba's interim-president Raúl Castro, Venezolan Minister for Energy Rafael Ramírez and the Cuban Minister for Sugar, Ulises Rosales signed contracts that will provide funding for the Cuban ministry and that will initiate the construction of four ethanol plants.

A total of 11 plants will be build in both countries, even though their precise distribution and capacity was not disclosed. The basis for the agreement is a common will to preserve the environment, stimulate the rural economy, reduce the consumption of fossil fuels and develop a viable bioenergy industry:
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Cuba's Minister for Foreign Investments, Marta Lomas, said that ethanol would replace leaded gasoline. She added that bilateral co-operation between the two countries has been increasing steadily since the year 2000: in that year, 31 projects worth US$28.5 million were agreed on, whereas in 2007 some 355 projects were established, valued at US$1.5 billion. Direct Venezuelan aid to Cuba will amount to US$1 billion this year.

Cuba used to have a large sugar sector, which has gone into steady decline after the collapse of the Soviet Union, even though sugar exports remain one of the island state's largest earnings of foreign currency. The past two years has seen a resurgence of the sector, mainly driven by the ethanol opportunity, and experts predict Cuba to reap massive benefits from it because of the competitive advantage of sugarcane (earlier post).

Venezuela on the other hand has a very large unused agricultural potential and land base, which Hugo Chavez has offered earlier to foreign investors interested in establishing energy plantations (earlier post). The 'Bolivarian' state has already begun construction on 17 domestic ethanol plants (earlier post).

More information:
Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias: Venezuela y Cuba constituirán 11 plantas de etanol en el país - March 1, 2007
Laverdad: Cuba y Venezuela construirán 11 plantas de etanol - March 2, 2007
El Universal (Caracas): Cuba construirá once plantas de producción de etanol en Venezuela - March 2, 2007

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Chief of China National Centre for Biotechnology looks at common myths about biofuels

Wang Hongguang, Director-General of the China National Center for Biotechnology Development (CNCBD), recently published an informative piece on China's bioenergy plans. In the text, Hongguang feels he has to eliminate some commonly held myths about biofuels, and instead focuses on the advantages of the bio-economy. Some of the misunderstandings are deliberately perpetuated by those who oppose the transition to a climate-neutral, clean post-oil future.

Hongguang has identified four common myths surrounding the development of biomass energy, as they relate to the specific situation of the People's Republic:

Misunderstanding one: "biomass energy will use up a great deal of grains. In developing biomass energy, grains can be used as raw materials but sweet sorghum, sweet potato, cassava, straws, sugar canes can also be used as raw materials; both various kinds of waste oil and rapeseeds can be used to produce biochemical diesel oil.
China abounds in non-grain biomass resources with starch, grease, cellulose, hemicellulose and xylogen as the bases. For the moment, China's annual grain outputs amount to 500 million tons, while over 700 million tons of straw will be produced. In China, there is an area of about 100 million hectares that is not suitable for planting grain crops but can be used to plant special plants as energy resources; and the area of pieces of land on which man-made forests can grow add up to 46.67 million mu. If 20 percent of such an area were made use of, about 10 billion tons of biomass could be produced each year; with such biomass energy resources as cassava and sweet sorghum added, at lest about 100 million tons of alcohol and biochemical diesel oil could be produced each year and such an output is equivalent to twice the output of the Daqing Oilfield [China's largest]."

Misunderstanding two: "biomass energy will strive for land against the production of grains. The raw materials for biomass energy can be produced by making use of eroded and poor lands, sloping fields and ameliorated saline lands, and it is completely possible that it does not compete for land against the production of grains."

Misunderstanding three: "The cost for biomass energy is high. It is expected that biomass energy will become one of the energy resources with the lowest costs. The three major reasons are as follows: firstly, the raw materials for biomass energy are less expensive, easy to develop, and easy to transport; secondly, as biomass energy can be produced on the spot, production costs can be saved by a large scale; thirdly, as breakthroughs have been made in biomass energy technologies like biochemical diesel oil, production of hydrogen from biomass, and oil extraction from biomass, costs for energy production will be cut down by a large margin."

Misunderstanding four: "biomass energy technologies are not mature yet. Biomass energy, which mainly makes use of the Bio-fermentation technology, is a kind of comparatively mature technology. As a whole, China's biomass energy resource technology has evolved into a stage where studies and industrialization develop together with each other. The technological level of China's fuel ethanol has become leading internationally. If calculated according to the present price of petroleum, it is completely possible to realize the objective that a large-scale production can be realized without any subsidiary from the State."

Hongguang instead identifies two major reasons why China should be developing biomass energy on a large scale:

Firstly, "to improve the ecologic environment. Biomass energy will not produce much carbon dioxide when being used, and green plants will absorb a great deal of carbon dioxide when conducting photosynthesis instead. Therefore, the discharge of carbon dioxide will be cut down in a large scale by developing biomass energy."

Secondly, "to increase farmers' incomes. To develop biomass energy can create employment opportunities and bring more incomes to farmers. It is briefly estimated that to create a "green Daqing Oilfield" is equivalent to give RMB 120~150 billion yuan [€11.8-14.7/US15.5-19.4 billion] originally used to import petroleum to farmers and biomass energy enterprises while 12~15 million jobs could be thus created."

In a country where social inequalities and the rift between the farming class and the wealthy urban elites is growing rapidly, investments in bioenergy offer a step towards closing this gap (earlier post). This is one of the main reasons mentioned by senior Chinese officials: bioenergy holds the potential to redistribute wealth, to revitalise the rural economy and to elminate some of the social and economic push-factors that drive farmers towards the cities and into the migrant working class, which lives in dire circumstances. China's internal migration is the largest migration ever seen anywhere in peace time, and frankly, the phenomenon is a social tragedy of vast proportions.

As Amnesty International just recently reported, these migrants end up in a miserable situation, as they are being treated as an 'urban underclass' which is often denied rights to adequate health and education services, which is housed temporarily and poorly and which is vulnerable to exploitative working conditions:
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This is why it is crucial for China to develop strategies to revitalise the agricultural sector, which still employs the majority of the Chinese labor force. Bioenergy has been identified as one of the options, as it brings badly needed incomes, value to farmers' lives and of course mass employment.

Recently, China has made substantial progress in its development of biomass energy. The State Forestry Administration and PetroChina Company Limited (PetroChina) signed an agreement, which prescribes that since this year, both parties will jointly set up a series of forestry biomass energy resource bases in Yunnan and Sichuan; and at the initial stage, the scale of any base will not be smaller than that of a demonstrative base for Jatropha curcas L. forest that can provide raw materials to exploit 200,000 to 300,000 tons of biochemical diesel oil and the area of all those bases will add up to over 600,000 mu.

By the end of the Eleventh Five-Year Plan Period, PetroChina will build up a production capacity to produce over two million tons of alcohol made from raw materials other than grains, shape up a scale for commercial purposes that can produce 200,000 tons of forestry biochemical diesel oil, and provide supports to build up raw material bases of biomass energy resources with an area of over 400,000 hectares. As shown by survey statistics, it is found out that there are 154 tree species with their respective seeds having oil content above 40 percent in China and over a dozen of such tree species can be cultivated and exploited in a large scale. By 2020, over six million tons of oil would be produced if 200 million mu of energy resource forests were cultivated.

Although the price of petroleum in international markets has somehow decreased for the time being, the fact that mineral energy resources are gradually becoming deficient will remain unchanged. Biomass energy including fuel alcohol, biochemical diesel oil, marsh gas, biomass power generation, and production of hydrogen from biomass is publicly recognized as one of the most important alternate energy sources that are featured with cleanness, being highly effective, safety, and sustainability. Major technologies for biomass energy have already shown a trend of getting mature and large-scale production of biomass energy is being developed in many countries, thus biomass energy is playing an important role in increasing the amount of energy resources, adjusting the energy structure and ensuring energy security.

Article continues

North Carolina State University develops biofuels for jet airplanes

Biofuels for aviation have received a lot of attention lately, not in the least because the single biggest cost-factor for an airline consists of fuel costs. The airline industry is also a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

The search for alternatives for petroluem-based kerosene and jet-fuel has so far resulted in a breakthrough in Brazil, where a biofuel company is cooperating with Boeing and NASA (earlier post) and as well as in Argentina, where the airforce has been testing biofuels mixed with jet-fuel ('bio-kerosene') (earlier post), whereas the U.S. Air Force has been experimenting with synthetic fuels, which can be made from biomass (earlier post). The University of North Dakota recently received a US$5 million grant to develop military bio-jet fuels (earlier post). And an airline moghul, like Sir Richard Branson, has repeatedly hinted at a future in which aviation biofuels will become viable on a large scale (earlier post).

Serious research challenges remain, though, because aviation biofuels need to have special properties, such as a high energy density and properties that allow them to be used at high altitudes and under very cold conditions, and in jet engines. Ordinary biodiesel won't do.

North Carolina State University engineers have now announced they have developed a biofuel technology that has the potential to turn virtually any fat source into fuel to power jet airplanes.

The technology – called 'Centia', derived from the Latin 'crudus potentia' or 'green power' in Latin – is '100 percent green', as no petroleum-derived products are added to the process. Centia can also be used to make additives for cold-weather biodiesel fuels and holds the potential to fuel automobiles that currently run on gasoline.

The Centia process (see picture, click to enlarge) comprises the four following steps:
  1. high temperatures and high water pressure strips off the free fatty acids from the accumulated feedstock of oils and fats, or triglycerides.
  2. the free fatty acids are decarboxylated in a reactor to perform; that is, carbon dioxide is taken off the free fatty acids. The result consists of alkanes, or straight-chain hydrocarbons of either 15 or 17 carbon atoms, depending on the feedstock.
  3. the straight chains are boken down into molecules with branches, making them more compact and changing their chemical and physical characteristics. Jet fuel and biodiesel fuel require a mixture of molecules with between 10 and 14 carbon atoms, while gasoline requires only eight carbon atoms; this process can be controlled to elicit exactly the type of fuel desired.
  4. Finally, in a last step the crude fuel is refined further to obtain the desired properties, even though the basic building blocks of the particular fuel are not changed.
Interestingly, the process makes use of glycerol (or glycerine), a by-product from bio-diesel production and from the Centia process, which is burned off to provide heat and power for the various steps involved, making the refining operations efficient:
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NC State received provisional patents to use the process to convert fats into jet fuel or additives for cold-weather biodiesel fuels. The technology has been licensed by Diversified Energy Corp., a privately held Arizona company specializing in the development of advanced alternative and renewable energy technologies and projects.

Dr. William Roberts, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and director of the Applied Energy Research Laboratory at NC State, developed the biofuels process with NC State’s Dr. Henry Lamb, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering; Dr. Larry Stikeleather, professor of biological and agricultural engineering; and Tim Turner of Turner Engineering in Carrboro, N.C.

Roberts says that besides being “100 percent green,” the new technology has some key advantages over other biofuel projects.

“We can take virtually any lipid-based feedstock, or raw material with a fat source – including what is perceived as low-quality feedstock like cooking grease – and turn it into virtually any fuel,” Roberts says. “Using low-quality feedstock is typically 30 percent less costly than using corn or canola oils to make fuel. And we’re not competing directly with the food supply, like ethanol-based fuels that are made from corn.”

The fuel created by the new process also burns cleaner, so it’s better for the environment, Roberts says. There is no soot or particulate matter associated with fuel from fats.

Further, Roberts says, the Centia process puts to use what other biodiesel processes throw away. Converting feedstock into fuel produces a low-value commodity – glycerol – as a by-product. Rather than discarding glycerol as waste like most biodiesel plants do, the NC State engineers’ process burns glycerol cleanly and efficiently to provide some of the process’ requisite high temperatures.

"Instead of composting the glycerol as waste, we use it as an integral part of the fuel-making process," Roberts said.

It really does take a rocket scientist to make jet fuel, especially out of oils or agricultural crops, Roberts says. The physical and chemical properties of traditional biodiesel fuels – their combustion characteristics and viscosity, for example – don’t match the stringent requirements required of jet fuels, making biodiesel unacceptable for the task.

"Jet fuel travels at 25,000 to 35,000 feet where temperatures can reach 70 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, so it needs to flow better in cold temperatures," Roberts says.

When it comes to the availability of feedstocks, Roberts adds that “We produce one-and-a-half billion gallons of animal fats annually, which is about half of the amount of vegetable oil produced yearly,” Roberts said. “Animal fats are harder to work with, but cheaper. Last year, for the first time ever, fuel costs in the aviation industry exceeded labor costs. We think the aviation industry is keen on finding alternatives to petroleum-based jet fuel.”

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