<body> --------------
Contact Us       Consulting       Projects       Our Goals       About Us
home / Archive
Add to My Yahoo!
Subscribe in NewsGator Online
    At a biofuels conference ahead of the EU's Summit on energy and climate change, Total's chief of agricultural affairs says building environmentally friendly 'flexible-fuel' cars only cost an additional €200 (US$263) a vehicle and that, overall, ethanol is cheaper than gasoline. MarketWatch - March 8, 2007.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Spanish company Ferry Group is to invest €42/US$55.2 million in a project for the production of biomass fuel pellets in Bulgaria. The 3-year project consists of establishing plantations of paulownia trees near the city of Tran. Paulownia is a fast-growing tree used for the commercial production of fuel pellets. Dnevnik - Feb. 20, 2007.

    Hungary's BHD Hõerõmû Zrt. is to build a 35 billion Forint (€138/US$182 million) commercial biomass-fired power plant with a maximum output of 49.9 MW in Szerencs (northeast Hungary). Portfolio.hu - Feb. 20, 2007.

    Tonight at 9pm, BBC Two will be showing a program on geo-engineering techniques to 'save' the planet from global warming. Five of the world's top scientists propose five radical scientific inventions which could stop climate change dead in its tracks. The ideas include: a giant sunshade in space to filter out the sun's rays and help cool us down; forests of artificial trees that would breath in carbon dioxide and stop the green house effect and a fleet futuristic yachts that will shoot salt water into the clouds thickening them and cooling the planet. BBC News - Feb. 19, 2007.

    Archer Daniels Midland, the largest U.S. ethanol producer, is planning to open a biodiesel plant in Indonesia with Wilmar International Ltd. this year and a wholly owned biodiesel plant in Brazil before July, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. The Brazil plant is expected to be the nation's largest, the paper said. Worldwide, the company projects a fourfold rise in biodiesel production over the next five years. ADM was not immediately available to comment. Reuters - Feb. 16, 2007.

    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.

Creative Commons License

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Plant size morphs dramatically as scientists tinker with outer layer

The 'third generation' of biofuels combines genetic impro- vements both on the level of feedstock production as on that of the conversion of biomass into useable fuels. Earlier we reported on how top-researchers have already succeeded in designing a hybrid poplar tree with lower amounts of lignin - the 'glue' that keeps cells together and makes wood so hard -, which makes it easier to break down the cell walls to release the sugars from which fuels can be made (previous post). Public acceptance aside, such transgenic crops, in combination with improved specialty enzymes that break down ligno-cellulosic biomass, are set to transform the future of bioenergy. The same logic holds for the future of the 'bioeconomy', in which virtually all petroleum-based products will be replaced by plant-based alternatives.

Researchers from the Plant Biology Laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have now announced another important contribution to the field of fundamental plant biology by discovering which part of a plant both drives and curbs growth. The question has been occupying scientists for over a century. Is the mechanism to be found in a shoot's outer waxy layer? Its inner layer studded with chloroplasts? Or the vascular system that moves nutrients and water?

In the March 8 issue of the journal Nature the scientists provide the answer. They succeeded in making tiny plants big and big plants tiny by controlling growth signals emanating from the plant's outer layer, its epidermis (see picture, click to enlarge).

These findings could eventually be used by agronomists to manipulate plant growth pathways to maximize crop yield, or even reduce leaf size or leaf angle in plants that need to be spaced closely together, says the study's lead author, Joanne Chory, Ph.D., professor and director of the Plant Biology Laboratory and investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Chory and her laboratory team have spent years helping to define how a plant "knows" when to grow and when to stop – which is a "big question in developmental biology," she says. For their experiments, they rely on the model system Arabidopsis thaliana, a small plant related to cabbage and mustard whose genome has been decoded. Over the years, the researchers have built up a whole tool kit, learning how to add and subtract genes in order to determine form and function. Among their discoveries is a class of dwarf plants whose size is about one-tenth the size of a single leaf of the full-sized plant:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Over the past decade, Chory's laboratory and others have shown that these dwarf plants are defective in making or responding to a steroid hormone called brassinolide. Among the genes identified was the plant steroid receptor, BRI1 ("bry-one") that is activated by the steroid. The dwarfed Arabidopsis doesn't express BRI1 at all, unlike normal Arabidopsis, which expresses BRI1 on both the outer waxy, protective epidermis (covering the whole leaf and shoot), and the inner sub-epidermal layer, which contains the chloroplasts that conduct photosynthesis.

In the current study, first author Sigal Savaldi-Goldstein, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher in the Plant Biology Laboratory, and Charles Peto, an electron microscopy specialist in the Laboratory of Neuronal Structure and Function, conducted a series of experiments that addressed an old debated question: what tissues of the leaf drive or restrict growth? The answer was simple: the epidermis is in control.

They found that when they drive the expression of the BRI1 receptor in the epidermis of a dwarf Arabidopsis, while leaving the sub-epidermal layer as it was (without BRI1 receptors), the tiny plant morphed into a full-sized plant. In the second set of experiments, they used an enzyme to break down the steroid hormones in the epidermis, and found that a normal sized plant shrunk into a dwarf. "These are simple experiments, but it took 10 years of work in order for us to be able to ask this question," Chory says.

"A second remarkable finding from the study is that "cells in the outer layer talk to the cells in the inner layers, telling them when to grow or to stop growing. This communication is very important to the life of a plant, which can't move and so must have a coordinated system to respond to a changing environment," explains Savaldi-Goldstein.

More information:
Sigal Savaldi-Goldstein, Charles Peto and Joanne Chory, "The epidermis both drives and restricts plant shoot growth", [*abstract], Nature, 446, 199-202 (8 March 2007).

Article continues

UK's largest coal user to co-fire 10% biomass, save 3 million tons of CO2

British power firm Drax, the country's single biggest source of CO2 emissions, announced today that profits more than doubled in 2006 and that it would free 67 million pounds (US$130 million) of investment to cut greenhouse gases.

The investment aims to help Drax's coal-fired power station in northern England - western Europe's biggest - to burn 10 percent biomass by 2009. It follows 100 million pounds of investment, announced in December, to upgrade the plant's six turbines.

The co-firing of biomass will save over three million tonnes of CO2 emissions each year, equalling the output of around 700 wind turbines, says Chief Executive Dorothy Thompson.

When the group earlier said it would consider using untested 'carbon capture and storage' technologies to sequester carbon underground, it faced protests by hundreds of environmental activists at its Yorkshire plant. Now it has decided to give up on the idea and use renewable and carbon-neutral biomass fuels instead.

Biomass for co-firing is obtained either from specially grown energy crops or from agro-forestry residues and is already used in small quantities at coal plants across Europe (database of current co-firing projects, at the IEA Bioenergy Task 32 on Combustion and Cofiring). Drax believes that if every plant in the UK were to use a similar amount of biomass, 21.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide would be saved each year.

European researchers are currently assessing the potential to source biomass feedstocks from the tropics and subtropics, where they can be grown competitively and sustainably:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

A recent project, undertaken by a consortium of 15 academic institutions, amongst them the leading french agency CIRAD, concluded that many countries both in Africa and Latin America can host dedicated energy plantations, because of their large potential for the sustainable production of biomass.

It was estimated that Brazil, would have around 46 million hectares available in 2050: more precisely, the zones concerned are the Brazilian states of Tocantins, Maranhão and Piaui, where the conditions are most suitable for forest plantations.

Central African countries equally had around 46 million hectares available for the sustainable production of biomass. The zones concerned are southern Congo, the western part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, northern and eastern Angola, western Zambia, western and southern Tanzania, northern Mozambique and the western and central parts of the Central African Republic.

These zones have more than 1000 mm of rainfall a year over more than a third of their area, and a population density of fewer than 80 inhabitants/km2. The pressure on this land is thus extremely low (earlier post).

These sustainably grown biomass fuels can be transported and exported efficiently to world markets (earlier post) where they are competitve with fossil fuels. In fact, over the medium to longer term, solid biomass for co-firing is predicted to be the most economic of all fuels and energy options (earlier post).

Article continues

"Why should Germans save the world alone?" - the press ahead of the EU summit

Germany currently holds the rotating EU presidency, and as such, the block's largest economy hosts the European Council (the 'Spring Summit'), where heads of state gather to take tough decisions on climate change and low carbon energy policies.

Ahead of today's summit, German media are asking some critical questions about Europe's role in fighting global warming. Even though former US vice-president Al Gore told reporters today that 'the European Union is absolutely key to helping the world make the change', German editorialists are asking the question "why should we Germans save the world alone?"

EU leaders meeting today and tomorrow are expected to commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming by 20 percent by 2020 compared to 1990 levels and 30 percent if other industrialized and emerging nations join in.

But China and the US, the world's biggest polluters, are not likely to join in, which is why skepticism is growing in Europe, as can be read from the following quotes:
"The discussion lacks all sense of proportion. Germany contributes roughly 6 percent to CO2 production worldwide and the figure is declining. Roughly half of all emissions come from the USA and China, where the output continues to grow at double-digit rates." - The business daily Handelsblatt.
Mass circulation Bild in a front-page story headlined: "Are We Germans Supposed to Save the World on our own?" writes:
"We Germans are for environmental protection! We're also prepared to make sacrifices for the environment. But sometimes one gets the impression: We're supposed to save the earth ourselves!"
"What are the biggest polluters, the USA, Russia and China, doing to save the planet?"
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, considered to be one of the most 'serious' German newspapers writes:
"The Christian Social Union wants to ban cars with combustion engines. The Social Democrats wants air travellers to pay a climate tax. The Greens want to slap a tax on air fuel and Greenpeace wants to ban all budget air travel."

"What's peculiar is that the so-called climate-protectors are punishing mobility and little else. Of course, the environmental costs of traffic are significant and the energy efficiency of travel has to be improved. But much more energy is being consumed by industry and private households."
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"Those in the wealthy western industrialized nations who insist on the right to disproportionately emit greenhouse gases are propagating global apartheid. It is almost grotesque to be continuously mentioning the increase in pollution being produced by China and India. What incentive is there for these or other countries to try to attain wealth and prosperity by other means, when not even the richest on earth are willing or able to do so? ...

"Climate change cannot be halted with small measures or without making any changes to consumer and lifestyle habits ... Embarking on the road whose destination is a CO2-free economy is simply too great a task. ... Politicians cannot just wait and hope that as many people as possible will start feeling guilty about their behavior. Instead, they have to create a basic framework which then applies to everyone. The more market-friendly the anti-climate change measures are, the better they will fit into the existing system."
Questioning Europe's solitary grandstanding is a futile exercise, as EU heads of state are committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions within the Union, and go it alone if necessary. The real problem that will emerge at today's Summit, is the question whether nuclear powers like France and Finland are willing to commit to targets on the use of non-nuclear renewables, and whether member-states are willing to accept mandatory, binding renewable energy targets instead of a voluntary set of aims.

On two topics - the launch of 'carbon capture and storage' projects and a mandate to introduce 10% biofuels for transport by 2020 - memberstates are more likely to agree. As the Summit unfolds, we will be reporting back [entry ends here].
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Article continues