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    Technip has been awarded by KNM Process Systems Sdn Bhd a contract to provide assistance in the detailed engineering of the fatty acids methyl ester transesterification unit for a biodiesel production plant to be located at the port of Kuantan, Malaysia. This project will be executed by Mission Biofuel Sdn Bhd (investor), KNM (contractor) and Axens (licensor). The unit will produce 250,000 tons of biodiesel per year from palm oil. It is scheduled to go into production in the third quarter of 2008. Technip - March 4, 2008.

    Kyushu University (Japan) is establishing what it says will be the world’s first graduate program in hydrogen energy technologies. The new master’s program for hydrogen engineering is to be offered at the university’s new Ito campus in Fukuoka Prefecture. Lectures will cover such topics as hydrogen energy and developing the fuel cells needed to convert hydrogen into heat or electricity. Of all the renewable pathways to produce hydrogen, bio-hydrogen based on the gasification of biomass is by far both the most efficient, cost-effective and cleanest. Fuel Cell Works - March 3, 2008.

    An entrepreneur in Ivory Coast has developed a project to establish a network of Miscanthus giganteus farms aimed at producing biomass for use in power generation. In a first phase, the goal is to grow the crop on 200 hectares, after which expansion will start. The project is in an advanced stage, but the entrepreneur still seeks partners and investors. The plantation is to be located in an agro-ecological zone qualified as highly suitable for the grass species. Contact us - March 3, 2008.

    A 7.1MW biomass power plant to be built on the Haiwaiian island of Kaua‘i has received approval from the local Planning Commission. The plant, owned and operated by Green Energy Hawaii, will use albizia trees, a hardy species that grows in poor soil on rainfall alone. The renewable power plant will meet 10 percent of the island's energy needs. Kauai World - February 27, 2008.

    Tasmania's first specialty biodiesel plant has been approved, to start operating as early as July. The Macquarie Oil Company will spend half a million dollars on a specially designed facility in Cressy, in Tasmania's Northern Midlands. The plant will produce more than five million litres of fuel each year for the transport and marine industries. A unique blend of feed stock, including poppy seed, is expected to make it more viable than most operations. ABC Rural - February 25, 2008.

    The 16th European Biomass Conference & Exhibition - From Research to Industry and Markets - will be held from 2nd to 6th June 2008, at the Convention and Exhibition Centre of FeriaValencia, Spain. Early bird fee registration ends 18th April 2008. European Biomass Conference & Exhibition - February 22, 2008.

    'Obesity Facts' – a new multidisciplinary journal for research and therapy published by Karger – was launched today as the official journal of the European Association for the Study of Obesity. The journal publishes articles covering all aspects of obesity, in particular epidemiology, etiology and pathogenesis, treatment, and the prevention of adiposity. As obesity is related to many disease processes, the journal is also dedicated to all topics pertaining to comorbidity and covers psychological and sociocultural aspects as well as influences of nutrition and exercise on body weight. Obesity is one of the world's most pressing health issues, expected to affect 700 million people by 2015. AlphaGalileo - February 21, 2008.

    A bioethanol plant with a capacity of 150 thousand tons per annum is to be constructed in Kuybishev, in the Novosibirsk region. Construction is to begin in 2009 with investments into the project estimated at €200 million. A 'wet' method of production will be used to make, in addition to bioethanol, gluten, fodder yeast and carbon dioxide for industrial use. The complex was developed by the Solev consulting company. FIS: Siberia - February 19, 2008.

    Sarnia-Lambton lands a $15million federal grant for biofuel innovation at the Western Ontario Research and Development Park. The funds come on top of a $10 million provincial grant. The "Bioindustrial Innovation Centre" project competed successfully against 110 other proposals for new research money. London Free Press - February 18, 2008.

    An organisation that has established a large Pongamia pinnata plantation on barren land owned by small & marginal farmers in Andhra Pradesh, India is looking for a biogas and CHP consultant to help research the use of de-oiled cake for the production of biogas. The organisation plans to set up a biogas plant of 20,000 cubic meter capacity and wants to use it for power generation. Contact us - February 15, 2008.

    The Andersons, Inc. and Marathon Oil Corporation today jointly announced ethanol production has begun at their 110-million gallon ethanol plant located in Greenville, Ohio. Along with the 110 million gallons of ethanol, the plant annually will produce 350,000 tons of distillers dried grains, an animal feed ingredient. Marathon Oil - February 14, 2008.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

CarbonTracker: powerful new tool to track atmospheric carbon dioxide by source

Scientists from NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory announced the launch of a new tool to monitor changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by region and source. The tool, called CarbonTracker, will enable its users to evaluate the effectiveness of their efforts to reduce or store carbon emissions.

The online data framework distinguishes between changes in the natural carbon cycle and those occurring in human-produced fossil fuel emissions. It also provides verification for scientists using computer models to project future climate change. Potential users include corporations, cities, states and nations assessing their efforts to reduce or store fossil fuel emissions around the world.

Increasingly, observations of the Earth are demonstrating a remarkable impact on our understanding of human and natural systems. We are transitioning this understanding gained from intensive research into operations that benefit the environment and the economy.

CarbonTracker distills an accurate assessment of greenhouse-gas increases or decreases. The resolution will increase to observe differences in concentration on finer geographical scales over time as data become available. Using the limited data that currently exist, the model can characterize emissions each month among U.S. regions, such as the West or the Southeast. As the observation network becomes denser, however, policymakers will be able to check the CarbonTracker Web site to compare emissions from urban centers. For instance, the resolution will be fine enough to determine the difference in net emissions from Sacramento as compared to San Francisco:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

CarbonTracker’s initial applications are primarily for scientists, and to attract new partners in NOAA’s efforts to expand greenhouse gas observations in the United States and globally. NOAA and its partners are encouraging the addition of new monitoring sites around the United States and around the world to increase the resolution of point sources. Ultimately the site will provide easy-to-use information on local scales for policymakers, business leaders, teachers, and the public.

“CarbonTracker’s potential is enormous,” said Pieter Tans, head of NOAA/ESRL’s Carbon Cycle Greenhouse Gases group, who developed the tool. “We are moving into an era where emissions could have a price tag. If carbon trading, emissions reduction and sequestration schemes become more common around the globe, society will need the ability to compare their relative value. Accurate and objective information on changing atmospheric concentrations will be essential for both research and impact assessments.”

Until now, scientists have relied on limited direct records of atmospheric carbon dioxide, mainly from remote locations. Also, previously available computer models could not maximize the utility of the information derived. Only analyses of very broad global patterns of carbon dioxide emissions and uptake were possible. Estimates of local carbon emissions have used proxy data, such as reported point-source inventories, gasoline sales records, and other tallies from energy organizations and nations monitoring greenhouse gases, but there has been no way to verify what was actually released into the atmosphere.

CarbonTracker uses many more continuous observations than previously taken. The largest concentration of observations for now is from within North America. The data are fed into a sophisticated computer model with 135 ecosystems and 11 ocean basins worldwide. The model calculates carbon release or uptake by oceans, wildfires, fossil fuel combustion, and the biosphere and transforms the data into a color-coded map of sources and storage “sinks.” One of the system’s most powerful assets is its ability to detect natural variations in carbon uptake and release by oceans and vegetation, which could either aid or counteract societies’ efforts to curb fossil fuel emissions on a seasonal basis.

“Only the atmosphere itself can give us the real answer on all sources and sinks,” said Wouter Peters, who led the development of CarbonTracker at NOAA/ESRL and also is affiliated with the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Environmental Sciences. “This information will be critical. How atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases change in the future is one of the key uncertainties in the global climate models and the biggest driver behind climate change.”

NOAA collaborates with partners in France, Australia, Brazil and other nations to measure greenhouse gases globally. Through a longstanding collaboration, Environment Canada has provided a quarter of the data for North America. However, the global network is still sparse. Using today’s data, the system can distinguish surface emissions on a broad scale, but plans are underway to refine observations and modeling of carbon sources on much smaller scales.

NOAA’s Earth System Research Lab is the only institution measuring atmospheric greenhouse gases globally and provides more than half of the world’s data. The network includes individuals gathering air samples in flasks that are then shipped to the Boulder lab for analysis, aircraft carrying automated samplers to grab air from higher altitudes, and sensors atop tall towers transmitting data via telephone.

CarbonTracker is a NOAA contribution to the North American Carbon Program, a multi-agency effort to quantify, understand, and predict the continent’s carbon cycle. CIRES is a partnership between NOAA and the University of Colorado.

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Singapore's first jatropha biodiesel plants eye exports to China

A new joint-venture, Van Der Horst Biodiesel, is planning to build Singapore's first biodiesel plant that uses Jatropha curcas and not palm oil as feedstock.

The plant on Jurong Island is the project of a joint venture between the Institute of Environmental Science and Engineering, which is linked to Nanyang Technological University, and Van Der Horst Engineering. It will see an investment of around S$40 (€19.7/US$26.3) million and have an annual capacity of 200,000 tons per year.

The move is seen as a boost for the local biodiesel sector and Van Der Horst said it is planning a second plant in Johor.

Currently, all biodiesel firms in Singapore use palm oil as a raw material to produce fuel. But Van Der Horst Biodiesel is seeking to be the first to use a new feedstock – the oil-rich nuts from the Jatropha curcas plant.

Jatropha has advantages over palm oil, which is commonly produced in Indonesia and Malaysia. Professor Tay Joo Hwa, Director and CEO, Institute of Environmental Science and Technology, said: "Jatropha can grow in very harsh environment. And we're not using that as a food source so it doesn't compete with the food and farmland."

"And because we have the plantation, and we have the technology, the cost of the feedstock will be much lower than the cost of other feedstock, such as palm oil in this part of the world and rapeseed in Europe."

Van Der Horst plans to secure land in Cambodia and China for the planting of the Jatropha nut:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The company plans to ship the biodiesel to major markets in China and the region.

Peter Cheng, CEO, Van Der Horst Biodiesel, said: "Within the region, we already have several parties wanting to take up all our production. We have the oil companies in Cambodia and also the oil companies in China."

Industry experts expect biodiesel to replace a significant portion of the diesel market over time. Most recently, the European Union mandated the use of biofuels – of which biodiesel is a component – to form 10 percent of its transport fuel.

Van Der Horst expects the United States, Japan and Korea to follow suit by legislating the use of biofuels in the next few years.

Biodiesel is an up-and-coming alternative energy industry and Singapore has attracted enough biodiesel investments to become a major biodiesel production base by 2008. Industry experts project that Singapore will be producing 1.5 million tonnes of biodiesel by next year.

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Paraguay launches plan to become major biofuel exporter

Paraguay is to launch a biofuel plan aimed at cutting dependence on oil, and to export renewable fuels to world markets. The country has no oil reserves of its own and has to rely on expensive imports to meet its fuel needs. High import bills are a heavy burden on the country's development. But Paraguay has a considerable biofuel production potential and is keen on exploiting it.

The country plans to export at least US$50 million worth of biofuels within four years as part of a wider bioenergy project that aims to attract foreign investment, the government said.

As part of the plan, the Paraguayan government also wants to replace imports of conventional fuels by US$ 150 million over the same time frame, Industry and Commerce Minister Jose Maria Ibanez told the Reuters Latin American Investment Summit in Asuncion.

"Agro-energy is the big issue worldwide at the moment and Paraguay is a country with great potential. We've got millions of hectares available for farming," Ibanez said.

Some key facts about the country's land and land-use:
  • Paraguay's total land area has an arable land base of around 21.5 million hectares, of which it currently uses 3.1 million hectares or 14.5%
  • Some 21% of the country's total land area is made up of forests, of which 2.7 million hectares are dense, pristine rainforest (see the EarthTrends database on forests, grasslands and drylands)
  • Paraguay's annual deforestation rate is around 0.5%
  • 65% of the country's total land area consists of savannas and grasslands, suitable for energy crop production
  • Around 12.7 million hectares of land are suitable for the production of sugarcane (map, click to enlarge), according to the AEZ methodology (International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, GAEZ database)
Based on assessments of Paraguay's biofuel potential, Ibanez said: "We're developing a national plan with a goal of close to 300 million liters between now and 2011. It's an enormous opportunity for foreign investment."

Six firms from neighboring Brazil, the United States and Japan have already shown their interest in working with Paraguayan businesses to set up sugar cane-processing plants for ethanol production:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Biofuels, which include ethanol, and diesel made from vegetable oils, are increasingly seen as a cleaner, renewable energy alternative to fossil fuels.

In 2006, Paraguay imported fuels and lubricants worth US$691 million - roughly the same as the country earns from annual exports of soy products. Paraguay is the world's No. 4 soy exporter and the oilseed is its top foreign currency earner.

Paraguay is one of South America's poorest countries and officials recognize that it still has a reputation for corruption, despite efforts to fight graft and attract outside capital.

"Corruption is still a problem, but it isn't one of the main difficulties for investment anymore because it's no longer a common practice," Ibanez said. "We've made a lot of progress."

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India's Ministry of Oil in favor of biofuel imports, ties with Brazil

In a bid to arm-twist local suppliers of ethanol, India's petroleum ministry is pushing for allowing imports of ethanol, reversing the earlier policy of relying on local production. It is also in favour of allowing imports of biodiesel.

The announcement comes at a time when both the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) - the largest marketer of petroleum products in the country - and government-owned refiner and marketer Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd showed interest to tie up with Brazilian oil major Petrobras to collaborate on ethanol projects, including ethanol imports. Both companies have been asked to explore opportunities in Brazil for the creation of distilleries.

Last year, at the IBSA Summit, Brazil and India signed a biofuel pact allowing the Asian country to invest in its Latin American partner (earlier post). Part of the pact was a bilateral agreement about land sales and leases, which offers Indian producers very favorable conditions for the establishment of energy plantations in Brazil (earlier post).

"Imports may be allowed in the consumer interest to ensure that sufficient quantities are procured at economic rates, and prices of petrol and diesel do not become captive to domestic price spikes in respect of ethanol and biodiesel", the petroleum ministry has said in a Cabinet note.

India's ethanol-blending programme, which was to be rolled out in the country from November 2006 onwards, has been a non-starter, with just about 10 states freezing contracts with ethanol suppliers.

The main issue of contention is the price. This is despite the fact that at a time consensus on the price of ethanol seemed to be emerging between oil firms and the Indian Sugar Mills Association.

Ethanol suppliers in the country are asking for minimum prices of 26-27 rupiah (US$0.59-0.62) per litre of ethanol, while the oil companies are working on an all-India reference price of 21.50 rupiah (US$0.49) per litre.

Imports of biofuels would secure supplies to the Indian market, but dilute the bargaining power of local producers:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

"There have been instances in the past when domestic ethanol suppliers have diverted supply to other users when prices of ethanol had increased. The did this in spite of a penalty that they have to pay if they breach supply commitments. We do not want such situations," a petroleum ministry official said.

The sugar industry says at 5 per cent blending, the country would require 682 million litres of ethanol in 2006-07, and the demand could rise to 1.3 billion litres with 10 per cent blending. According to industry estimates, India currently has about 120 ethanol-producing distilleries, which can manufacture 1.2 billion litres of ethanol every year.

Interestingly, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, which has drafted the biofuel policy, has said in the same note that the primary thrust of the biofuel policy remains indigenous production.

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Polyploid technology brings high yield energy crops

Earlier we reported on a new plant breeding technique based on metabolic profiling that allows scientists to select and clone high yield plants fast (earlier post). Now an Australian biotech company, BioFuelGenomics, is commercialising a plant cloning technique based on polyploidisation that allows plant breeders to constantly advance the normal growth rates of biomass crops by between 30% and 40% per annum. The technology enables the creation of adaptive polyploids or the spontaneous doubling of a plant’s genetic material. No genetic engineering is involved.

Polyploidisation is an evolutionary event that occurs naturally in plants, but until now has not been able to be replicated in the laboratory for plant species. Polyploids are cells or organisms that contain more than two copies of their chromosomes and that outperform their diploid parents (picture, click to enlarge).

Polyploids result in:
  • faster growing trees;
  • stronger trees;
  • higher yielding trees and gigantism;
  • decrease resources used by polyploided plants; and
  • additional carbon absorption
The BioFuelGenomics adaptation process creates polyploids at will, however the groundbreaking part of this process is the ability to create adaptive polyploids, where entire gene clusters are rearranged in order to cope with specific environmental and physical conditions (genomic architecture).

The process involves the DNA profiling of elite mother stock trees and processing them through the tree adaptation process. The end result is a new plant with the same physical characteristics, yet significantly greater genetic material and therefore growth potential than the mother stock. BioFuelGenomics technology does not introduce foreign DNA and as such, adapted trees are not classified as genetically modified organisms:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

As an illustration of the benefits over a 20 year period, an existing plantation may complete 3 rotations of trees for harvest. Using BiofuelGenomics technology the rotation can be increased to 5 turns in 20 years and the unit cost of production can be reduced significantly.

If this technology works in practise, it is set to revolutionise the producion of bioenergy based on fast-rotation crops.

BiofuelGenomics relies on a perfected laboratory application of the naturally occurring evolutionary event, i.e. the ability to consistently create stable polyploids (plants with duplicate sets of chromosomes), allowing accelerated plant growth. This technique was developed by Australian biotech company Arbour Technologies Pty Ltd on which BiofuelGenomics' "Tree Adaptation Process" is based.

The Tree Adaptation Process has now been completed for the following species: acacia crassicarpa, elaeocarpus grandis, paulownia fortunei, araucaria cunninghamii, pinus radiata, agathis robusta and toona ciliata. Arbour Technologies is currently working on the modification of biofuel plants for the biodiesel industry.

A naturally occurring phenomenon, polyploidy generally occurs in pioneer plant species during times of environmental stress. Polyploids are found in most of our food crops, however due to the long reproductive cycle of tree crops natural polyploids are extremely rare.

Polyploids contain more chlorophyll, photosynthesise at a faster rate and therefore grow faster than conventional plants.

Much scientific work has been conducted to produce polyploid events, however to date, few polyploid events have resulted in "stable plants" (that is, they created the polyploid event using mutagens but the plants did not thrive). One of the best known and most commercially successful polyploid events was the creation of the seedless watermelon.

There are many examples of existing polyploids, particularly in the food category, where multigenerational intensive breeding has occurred. Examples such as - maize, watermelons, wheat, cotton, potatoes, cabbage, leek, strawberries, pansies, oat, peanuts, sugar cane, bananas, tobacco and apples.

Independent verification
The University of Queensland has completed an independent examination of the ploidy level, genomic stability and growth performance of a range of adapted tree species.

The report compared measurements of plant morphology (height, growth, stem diameter, number of branches, total biomass, leaf area, etc) as well as plant physiology (net photosynthesis rate, transpiration rate, stomatal conductance, fluorescence, chlorophyll content, etc).

Results confirm polyploids outperformed their diploid parents, specifically showing:
  • Significantly greater leaf elongation rates
  • Significantly greater leaf size
  • Significantly greater stomatal conductance
  • Significantly greater photosynthetic rate
  • Significantly greater electron transport rate
  • Significantly greater plant biomass
  • Significantly greater flower/fruit mass
  • Significantly greater nuclear DNA content
  • Significantly higher chlorophyll levels
  • All of the above whilst utilising less resources than their diploid parents.
  • 'all clone lines of the ten species tested had extremely high genomic stability, demonstrating that mass clonal production programmes should result in phenotypically stable clone lines'
  • 'Selected clone lines were morphologically different, exhibited better growth, had an increased photosynthetic rate and different biochemical properties than their diploid parents'
BioFuelGenomics has an Exclusive Worldwide Marketing License for the Biofuel Industries, with the exceptions of the oil palm industry [Biopact note: because the technique has already been used and licences by another company that succeeded in creating clonal palms that yield 30% more oil]. Other related corporations hold the other respective exclusive marketing licenses in Timber and Pulping trees, Land Remediation, Medical and Pharmaceutical, Food and Fibre, as well as the amenity horticulture industry.

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