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    The Africa Power & Electricity Congress and Exhibition, to take place from 16 - 20 April 2007, in the Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg, South Africa, will focus on bioenergy and biofuels. The Statesman - April 7, 2007.

    Petrobras and Petroecuador have signed a joint performance MOU for a technical, economic and legal viability study to develop joint projects in biofuel production and distribution in Ecuador. The project includes possible joint Petroecuador and Petrobras investments, in addition to qualifying the Ecuadorian staff that is directly involved in biofuel-related activities with the exchange of professionals and technical training. PetroBras - April 5, 2007.

    The Société de Transport de Montréal is to buy 8 biodiesel-electric hybrid buses that will use 20% less fuel and cut 330 tons of GHG emissions per annum. Courrier Ahuntsic - April 3, 2007.

    Thailand mandates B2, a mixture of 2% biodiesel and 98% diesel. According to Energy Minister Piyasvasti Amranand, the mandate comes into effect by April next year. Bangkok Post - April 3, 2007.

    In what is described as a defeat for the Bush administration, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled [*.pdf] today that environmental officials have the power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions that spur global warming. By a 5-4 vote, the nation's highest court told the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its refusal to regulate carbon dioxide and other emissions from new cars and trucks that contribute to climate change. Reuters - April 2, 2007.

    Goldman Sachs estimates that, in the absence of current trade barriers, Latin America could supply all the ethanol required in the US and Europe at a cost of $45 per barrel – just over half the cost of US-made ethanol. EuroToday - April 2, 2007.

    The Kauai Island Utility Cooperative signed a long-term purchase power agreement last week with Green Energy Team, LLC. The 20-year agreement enables KIUC to purchase power from Green Energy's proposed 6.4 megawatt biomass-to-energy facility, which will use agricultural waste to generate power. Honolulu Advertiser - April 2, 2007.

    The market trend to heavier, more powerful hybrids is eroding the fuel consumption advantage of hybrid technology, according to a study done by researchers at the University of British Columbia. GreenCarCongress - March 30, 2007.

    Hungarian privately-owned bio-ethanol project firm Mabio is planning to complete an €80-85 million ethanol plant in Southeast Hungary's Csabacsud by end-2008. Onet/Interfax - March 29, 2007.

    Energy and engineering group Abengoa announces it has applied for planning permission to build a bioethanol plant in north-east England with a capacity of about 400,000 tonnes a year. Reuters - March 29, 2007.

    The second European Summer School on Renewable Motor Fuels will be held in Warsaw, Poland, from 29 to 31 August 2007. The goal of the event is to disseminate the knowledge generated within the EU-funded RENEW (Renewable Fuels for Advanced Powertrains) project and present it to the European academic audience and stakeholders. Topics on the agenda include generation of synthetic gas from biomass and gas cleaning; transport fuel synthesis from synthetic gas; biofuel use in different motors; biomass potentials, supply and logistics, and technology, cost and life-cycle assessment of BtL pathways. Cordis News - March 27, 2007.

    Green Swedes want even more renewables, according to a study from Gothenburg University. Support for hydroelectricity and biofuels has increased, whereas three-quarters of people want Sweden to concentrate more on wind and solar too. Swedes still back the nuclear phase-out plans. The country is Europe's largest ethanol user. It imports 75% of the biofuel from Brazil. Sveriges Radio International - March 27, 2007.

    Fiat will launch its Brazilian-built flex-fuel Uno in South Africa later this year. The flex-fuel Uno, which can run on gasoline, ethanol or any combination of the two fuels, was displayed at the Durban Auto Show, and is set to become popular as South Africa enters the ethanol era. Automotive World - March 27, 2007.

    Siemens Power Generation (PG) is to supply two steam turbine gensets to a biomass-fired plant in Três Lagoas, 600 kilometers northwest of São Paulo. The order, valued at €22 million, was placed by the Brazilian company Pöyry Empreendimentos, part of VCP (Votorantim Celulose e Papel), one of the biggest cellulose producers in the Americas. PRDomain - March 25, 2007.

    Asia’s demand for oil will nearly double over the next 25 years and will account for 85% of the increased demand in 2007, Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) officials forecast yesterday at a Bangkok-hosted energy conference. Daily Times - March 24, 2007.

    Portugal's government expects total investment in biomass energy will reach €500 million in 2012, when its target of 250MW capacity is reached. By that date, biomass will reduce 700,000 tonnes of carbon emissions. By 2010, biomass will represent 5% of the country's energy production. Forbes - March 22, 2007.

    The Scottish Executive has announced a biomass action plan for Scotland, through which dozens of green energy projects across the region are set to benefit from an additional £3 million of funding. The plan includes greater use of the forestry and agriculture sectors, together with grant support to encourage greater use of biomass products. Energy Business Review Online - March 21, 2007.

    The U.S. Dep't of Agriculture's Forest Service has selected 26 small businesses and community groups to receive US$6.2 million in grants from for the development of innovative uses for woody biomass. American Agriculturalist - March 21, 2007.

    Three universities, a government laboratory, and several companies are joining forces in Colorado to create what organizers hope will be a major player in the emerging field of converting biomass into fuels and other products. The Colorado Center for Biorefining & Biofuels, or C2B2, combines the biofuels and biorefining expertise of the University of Colorado, Colorado State University, the Colorado School of Mines, and the Colorado-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Founding corporate members include Dow Chemical, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Shell. C&EN - March 20, 2007.

    The city of Rome has announced plans to run its public bus fleet on a fuel mix of 20 per cent biodiesel. The city council has signed an accord that would see its 2800 buses switch to the blended fuel in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions and local air pollution. A trial of 200 buses, if successful, would see the entire fleet running on the biofuel mix by the end of 2008. Estimates put the annual emission savings at 40,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. CarbonPositive - March 19, 2007.

    CODON (Dutch Biotech Study Association) organises a symposium on the 'Biobased Economy' in Wageningen, Netherlands, home of one of Europe's largest agricultural universities. In a biobased economy, chemistry companies and other non-food enterprises primarily use renewable materials and biomass as their resources, instead of petroleum. The Netherlands has the ambition to have 30% of all used materials biobased, by 2030. FoodHolland - March 19, 2007.

    Energy giants BP and China National Petroleum Corp, the PRC's biggest oil producer, are among the companies that are in talks with Guangxi Xintiande Energy Co about buying a stake in the southern China ethanol producer to expand output. Xintiande Energy currently produces ethanol from cassava. ChinaDaily - March 16, 2007.

    Researchers at eTEC Business Development Ltd., a biofuels research company based in Vienna, Austria, have devised mobile facilities that successfully convert the biodiesel by-product glycerin into electricity. The facilities, according to researchers, will provide substantial economic growth for biodiesel plants while turning glycerin into productive renewable energy. Biodiesel Magazine - March 16, 2007.

    Ethanol Africa, which plans to build eight biofuel plants in the maize belt, has secured funding of €83/US$110 million (825 million Rand) for the first facility in Bothaville, its principal shareholder announced. Business Report - March 16, 2007.

    A joint venture between Energias de Portugal SGPS and Altri SGPS will be awarded licences to build five 100 MW biomass power stations in Portugal's eastern Castelo Branco region. EDP's EDP Bioelectrica unit and Altri's Celulose de Caima plan to fuel the power stations with forestry waste material. Total investment on the programme is projected at €250/US$333 million with 800 jobs being created. Forbes - March 16, 2007.

    Indian bioprocess engineering firm Praj wins €11/US$14.5 million contract for the construction of the wheat and beet based bio-ethanol plant for Biowanze SA in Belgium, a subsidiary of CropEnergies AG (a Sudzucker Group Company). The plant has an ethanol production capacity of 300,000 tons per year. IndiaPRWire - March 15, 2007.

    Shimadzu Scientific Instruments announced the availability of its new white paper, “Overview of Biofuels and the Analytical Processes Used in their Manufacture.” The paper is available for free download at the company’s website. The paper offers an overview of the rapidly expanding global biofuel market with specific focus on ethanol and biodiesel used in auto transportation. It provides context for these products within the fuel market and explains raw materials and manufacturing. Most important, the paper describes the analytical processes and equipment used for QA testing of raw materials, in-process materials, and end products. BusinessWire - March 15, 2007.

    Côte d'Ivoire's agriculture minister Amadou Gon has visited the biofuels section of the Salon de l'Agriculture in Paris, one of the largest fairs of its kind. According to his communication office, the minister is looking into drafting a plan for the introduction of biofuels in the West African country. AllAfrica [*French] - March 13, 2007.

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Saturday, April 07, 2007

The global biofuels revolution: challenges, options, recommendations

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) recently announced a US$3 billion investment strategy to develop biofuels in Latin America. To put this initiative in context, the IDB released a major report on the future of the global biofuels industry, with a focus on Latin America's role in this emerging sector. The 600 page report titled "A Blueprint for Green Energy in the Americas - Strategic Analysis of Opportunities for Brazil and the Hemisphere" offers an overview of the past achievements, current trends and future challenges to make the transition to biofuels in a sustainable and equitable way.

The report was recently presented and discussed at a conference, where both the IDB and the Interamerican Ethanol Commission convened. The following videos highlight contributions of two speakers: Roberto Rodrigues (former Brazilian minister of agriculture) and David Rothkopf who prepared the study.
Rothkopf discusses the confluence of major factors that make the case for biofuels: instable and insecure oil markets, the evidence for climate change and the need for low carbon fuels, the biotech revolution, and rapid growth in the developing world. Green fuels offer opportunities to create an entirely new energy paradigm that confronts this situation. Key words are decentralisation, fuel diversification, sustainability and social inclusion.
However, many challenges remain, such as the need to develop new technologies, investments in infrastructures and the creation of global and regional biofuel policies and markets. The speaker further focuses on current trends and the potential of Latin America.
Roberto Rodrigues, current co-chair of the Interamerican Ethanol Commission, former agriculture minister under Brazilian president Lula's first government, and professor of 'world economics' at the University of São Paulo. Rodrigues explains why the big issue for 20th century agriculture was achieving global food security, and why for the 21st century it will be energy security. The professor sees a radical change in the geography of energy and agriculture, with the Global South taking advantage of its vast bioenergy potential to leapfrog into a green development era. Rodrigues continues by focusing on the food versus fuel issue as it relates to Brazil. He concludes with a discussion of technological progress in the sector.

More information:
IDB: "IDB targets $3 billion in Private Sector Biofuel Projects" - April 2, 2007.
IDB presentation of the study "A Blueprint for Green Energy in the Americas - Strategic Analysis of Opportunities for Brazil and the Hemisphere", April 2007.
Video fragment credits: IDB, C-Span [entry ends here]
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USDA researchers test biomass pyrolisis plant for the production of bio-oil

Scientists from the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) have started experimenting with a thermochemical bioconversion technology that will convert biomass crops such as switchgrass and lignocellulosic energy crops into a liquid intermediate called 'bio-oil' or 'pyrolysis oil' that can be refined further into a range of automotive and industrial fuels. The test bed is a 2.5 kg/hr fluidized-bed reactor that converts biomass via a process called fast pyrolysis. The researchers published their results in the journal Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Research.

Overcoming logistical challenges
A major motivation for the research is to overcome some of the logistical challenges associated with biomass fuels. The challenge of using ligno-cellulosic energy crops is to overcome their low density. Bales of for example switchgrass are light and very bulky and require too much space on trucks or rail to make transportation to a central processing facility economically feasible. The idea is to transform them into bio-oil on-site, near the plantation, after which the energy rich, high density liquid can be transported more efficiently to central refineries.

Other challenges are difficulties associated with breaking down the complex carbohydrates in switchgrass to make simple sugars that can be converted into ethanol through the process of fermentation. These difficulties result in the current estimate that ethanol from switchgrass costs about twice as much as ethanol from grain crops, such as corn.

But according to the ARS researchers, pyrolysis offers a way to overcome both problems at once. By heating the biomass in an absence of oxygen - called pyrolysis - the green feedstock is broken down efficiently into a liquid that can be easily transshipped to central refineries and upgraded to fuels and chemicals.

In order to test the concept, they built a unique pilot-scale reactor that uses a hot sand medium (called a fluidized-bed reactor) to convert perennial grasses to bio-oil and have now tested the reactor on switchgrass. They obtained the following results:
  • The reactor was able to use switchgrass as a feedstock and produce a quantity of bio-oil that was 60% of the weight of the switchgrass fed into the reactor.
  • They analysed the composition and fuel properties of the produced liquid and found that the energy content was about the same as the parent switchgrass but the density was more than 2.5 times greater.
  • The results show that char yielded would suffice in providing all the energy required for the endothermic pyrolysis reaction process.
  • The tests showed over-all energy conversion efficiencies ranging from 52 to 81%.
The operational data collected and the test results obtained can be used to design similar tests for other grasses in the ARS energy crop program and for the design and scale-up of reactors for larger operations.

Decentralised production
In the larger order of things, the technology is exceptionally suited for the developing world, where biomass productivity potentials are high, but where infrastructures are underdeveloped. In principle, the technology allows for decentralised 'crude oil' production by small producers, who sell to refineries (earlier post).

The ARS researchers hint at this concept:
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the study provides useful information for companies interested in building small scale distributed pyrolysers that could be used by farmers "on the farm" to produce a pyrolytic oil. Farmers could then sell the product as a "crude oil" to oil refiners, who in turn, would convert it into transportation or heating fuels. If successful, this would lead to increased opportunities for farmers who could put marginal lands into [tropical grass] production and help drive a renewable fuels economy in rural [areas].
The study includes mass and energy balances of this system, yielding useful parameters for future economic and design studies.

More information:
Boateng, A.A., Daugaard, D.E., Goldberg, N.M., Hicks, K.B. 2007. Bench-scale fluidized-bed pyrolysis of switchgrass for bio oil production. Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Research 46, p.1891-1897.

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Why OPEC-member Nigeria introduces biofuels to its energy mix

As is well established by now, biofuels may offer major advantages to developing countries. These countries can 'leapfrog' into a greener world that is based on a new energy and development paradigm. Biofuels bring a reduction of dependence on oil and the high fossil fuel prices that are so detrimental to their economies, they offer increased energy security through fuel diversification, income generation for farmers and rural communities, new jobs in a wide range of sectors, decreased air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, a democratisation of access to mobility and increased energy access - in short, a virtuous cycle of factors that leads to a strengthened economy, both on the macro- as on the micro-level.

Ultimately, biofuels hold the potential to include some of the world's poorest people into the wider economy, by looking at them as energy producers. Especially in Africa, where more than 70% of people make a living from agriculture, social inclusion and income generation on a massive scale through biofuels can lead to lower pressures on the environment, strengthened livelihoods and to more sustainable development.

Engineer Funso Kupolokun, group managing director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), explains why Nigeria introduced biofuels into the nation's energy mix, despite being an OPEC member and the continent's largest oil producer. He explained that the integration of the agricultural sector with the energy sector opens a new world of opportunities to all members of society.

Speaking at the 18th Enugu International Trade Fair, Kupolokun shed light on a US$350 million 'Nigerian Content Support Fund' (NCSF), which has been created as an avenue through which indigenous companies can source biofuel funds to compete with their foreign counterparts and to strentghen Nigeria's grip over its own energy supplies. Even though Nigeria is a crude oil producer, the refined fuels sold in the country are under control of foreign capital. Nigeria wants to change this situation.

Engineer Austin Oniwoh said the effective combination of efforts of the agricultural sector and the energy sector would have profound impact in increasing the nation's Gross Domestic Product (GDP), in addition to the creation and spreading of wealth among a very large segment of the Nigerian people.

Nigeria's people are highly frustrated by the fact that they see virtually none of the benefits from the oil wealth that is generated from the country's petroleum sector. The Nigerian oil sector is foreign-owned and operated, produces very small numbers of jobs compared to the profits made, fuels corruption and a concentration of power, and destroys ecosystems. Biofuels production on the other hand, is based on distributed production of feedstocks amongst many different farmers and is based on local instead of foreign labor. In short, petroleum and biofuels are based on two entirely different logics (earlier post).

Oniwoh said that in the pursuit of kickstarting this new energy industry in Nigeria, the NNPC has engaged the Federal University of Agriculture, Markurdi, as a consultant to develop high yielding, short gestation cassava and sugar cane breeds:
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"The seedlings will be made available to both small and large scale farmers for cultivation and subsequent supply of the produce to ethanol distilleries, to be established in various parts of Nigeria," he said.

Kupolokun for his part said the biofuels initiative will have the twin effect of protecting the nation's environment as green fuel, and spreading wealth amongst the poor rural farmers and the mechanised urban farmers who hitherto have been distant beneficiaries of the oil and gas economy.

He invited entrepreneurs from the South-east and members of the Enugu Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (ENCCIMA), to take advantage of the NCSF fund.

As regard to the oil-sector and the aim to strengthen Nigerian companies' participation, Kupolokun said the dividend of the liberalisation of the downstream oil and gas sector has engendered effective and active private sector inclusion and participation in bulk products importation, distribution and expanded retailing, resulting in the much desired wealth creation across the products supply chain.

He said NNPC has now shifted emphasis to creating the same enablement of Nigerian entrepreneurs in the upstream sector through the Nigerian Content initiative, adding that the Corporation's management has been actively engaged in promoting and monitoring local inputs to all on-going and new projects in the sector.

"Our target of achieving 45 per cent Nigerian content in 2006 was largely realized, while concerted efforts are on to achieve the targeted 70 per cent in year 2010. The Nigerian Content initiative seeks to significantly improve the quantum of composite value-added or created in the Nigerian economy through the effective utilisation of Nigerian human and material resources for the provision of goods and services to the oil and gas industry," he said.

Image: Nigerian field technicians showing "super cassava" developed with multiples of the normal chromosome count, by the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture.

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