<body> --------------
Contact Us       Consulting       Projects       Our Goals       About Us
home / Archive
Nature Blog Network

    Vietnam has won the prestigious EU-sponsored Energy Globe award for 2006 for a community biogas program, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development announced. ThanhNien News - April 13, 2007.

    Given unstable fossil fuel prices and their negative effects on the economy, Tanzania envisages large-scale agriculture of energy crops Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, Mr Christopher Chiza has said. A 600 hectare jatropha seed production effort is underway, with the seeds expected to be distributed to farmers during the 2009/2010 growing season. Daily News (Dar es Salaam) - April 12, 2007.

    Renault has announced it will launch a flex-fuel version of its Logan in Brazil in July. Brazilian autosales rose 28% to 1,834,581 in 2006 from 2004. GreenCarCongress - April 12, 2007.

    Chevron and Weyerhouser, one of the largest forest products companies, are joining forces to research next generation biofuels. The companies will focus on developing technology that can transform wood fiber and other nonfood sources of cellulose into economical, clean-burning biofuels for cars and trucks. PRNewswire - April 12, 2007.

    BioConversion Blog's C. Scott Miller discusses the publication of 'The BioTown Source Book', which offers a very accessible introduction to the many different bioconversion technologies currently driving the bioenergy sector. BioConversion Blog - April 11, 2007.

    China's State Forestry Administration (SFA) and the China National Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs Import & Export Corp., Ltd. (COFCO) have signed a framework agreement over plans to cooperatively develop forest bioenergy resources, COFCO announced on its web site. Interfax China - April 11, 2007.

    The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock of El Salvador is speeding up writing the country's biofuels law in order to take advantage of the US-Brazil cooperation agreement which identified the country as one where projects can be launched fairly quickly. The bill is expected to be presented to parliament in the coming weeks. El Porvenir - April 11, 2007.

    ConocoPhillips will establish an eight-year, $22.5 million research program at Iowa State University dedicated to developing technologies that produce biofuels. The grant is part of ConocoPhillips' plan to create joint research programs with major universities to produce viable solutions to diversify America's energy sources. Iowa State University - April 11, 2007.

    Interstate Power and Light has decided to utilize super-critical pulverized coal boiler technology at its large (600MW) new generation facility planned for Marshalltown, Iowa. The plant is designed to co-fire biomass and has a cogeneration component. The investment tops US$1billion. PRNewswire - April 10, 2007.

    One of India's largest sugar companies, the Birla group will invest 8 billion rupees (US$187 million) to expand sugar and biofuel ethanol output and produce renewable electricity from bagasse, to generate more revenue streams from its sugar business. Reuters India - April 9, 2007.

    An Iranian firm, Mashal Khazar Darya, is to build a cellulosic ethanol plant that will utilise switchgrass as its feedstock at a site it owns in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The investment is estimated to be worth €112/US$150 million. The plant's capacity will be 378 million liters (100 million gallons), supplied by switchgrass grown on 4400 hectares of land. PressTv (Iran) - April 9, 2007.

    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.

Creative Commons License

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Two doctoral theses look at carbon capture and storage options

Two Dutch researchers recently defended their doctoral thesis on the subject of carbon capture and storage (CCS) (for a typical set-up, see image, click to enlarge). Dr Kay Damen (Copernicus Institute for Sustainable Development and Innovation, Utrecht University), analysed the potential for CO2 storage in the Netherlands, the costs involved and the need for a coordinated international planning effort. His thesis, entitled ‘System analyses of transition routes to advanced fossil fuel utilisation with CO2 capture and storage’ was part of the programme ‘Transition to sustainable use of fossil fuels’ that was funded by the Netherlands organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and the €5.45 million SenterNovem Stimulation Programme Energy Research. This programme aims to develop knowledge in the natural and social sciences for the transition to a sustainable energy supply.

As part of the same program, Dr Saikat Mazumder defended his thesis at the Delft University of Technology on how to better predict routes of the 'underground highways' along which gasses like carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) will move during storage operations. He found coal to be highly suitable for filtering carbon dioxide out of waste gasses and storing it.

Both works are highly interesting additions to the growing body of research into CCS, which we track because the technology promises the creation of carbon netgative energy systems based on the utilisation of biomass (socalled 'Bio-Energy with Carbon Storage').

'Major potential'
According to Dr Damen, CO2 capture and storage can make a major contribution to CO2 reduction in the Netherlands. By the mid-21st century 80 to 110 million tonnes of CO2 per year could be avoided in the sectors energy, industry and transport. This is half of the current CO2 emission. Moreover, this can be realised against acceptable costs, the researcher concluded.

To realise such reductions in CO2 emission, a clear and internationally-oriented vision and bridging strategy is necessary, so that the storage capacity that is released over the next few decennia can actually be used for CO2 storage says Damen. He investigated the technical possibilities, costs and risks of CO2 capture, transport and underground storage:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Electricity greatest potential
In 2020 15 million tonnes of CO2 per year could be avoided by capturing CO2 in the new coal-fired power stations yet to be constructed. Moreover, existing pulverised coal-fired power stations may also be equipped with CO2 capture installations, although the costs of this are relatively high. In 2050 the reduction potential is estimated to be 60 to 84 million tonnes of CO2 per year, for a scenario in which the electricity production is doubled.

By capturing CO2 in industrial processes a further 16 million tonnes of CO2 per year can be avoided. Further if cars are run on hydrogen or synthetic diesel produced from fossil fuels combined with CO2 capture then this could eventually lead to a difference of more than 10 million tonnes of CO2 emission per year. For the production of hydrogen in the transport sector, Damen investigated the thermodynamic performance and costs of decentralised membrane reformers. This new technology makes it possible to capture CO2 against relatively low costs.
CO2 transport and storage

Damen calculated the costs of the pipelines necessary to transport the captured CO2 to underground storage reservoirs. Gas fields are, in addition to deep saline aquifers and coal seams, the most suitable reservoirs for CO2 storage in the Netherlands. The capacity that becomes available for CO2 storage can, however, be limited by a series of geological factors, including the risk of CO2 leakage via wells and faults. Although the mechanisms of CO2 leakage are known, quantifying the risks is still a challenge. Additionally CO2 storage could compete with the underground storage of natural gas, especially if the Netherlands develops into an international gas 'roundabout'. If the Netherlands has to maximise its efforts on CO2 capture and storage then eventually one of the 'mega storage reservoirs’ will have to be released, for example, the Groningen gas field or large structures in the British or Norwegian part of the North Sea.

CO2 storage in coal can be predicted better
Saikat Mazumder for his part made it possible to better predict routes of the 'underground highways' along which gasses like carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) will move. Moreover, he found that coal might be highly suitable for filtering carbon dioxide out of waste gasses and storing it.

The ‘Enhanced Coalbed Methane process’ kills two birds with one stone: carbon dioxide (CO2) is stored in coal seams in the ground and at the same time methane (CH4) is obtained from the process. To optimise this process it is important to know how coal retains and stores some fluids and gasses whilst allowing others through. The network of cracks is essential for this. Mazumder developed a measuring technique using CT scans that led to an improved understanding of the patterns of cracks. He also did experiments with waste gas and pure CO2 to determine the uptake capacity of single and multi-component gasses. In both wet and dry experiments, CO2 was strongly absorbed and CH4 was released. This methane production in a coal seam can vary over the course of time. Mazumder developed two estimating methods to gain a better understanding of this. When used together these could generate good predictions.

Problems due to swelling
The research revealed that a considerable quantity of CO2 could be removed from waste gas by allowing it to be adsorbed onto coal under high-pressure. According to Mazumder this means that the injection of waste gas into coal seams can be applied to filter out CO2 on an industrial scale and to retain it. Mazumder also carried out a preliminary study into the decrease in porosity and permeability as a consequence of coal swelling due to the injection of CO2. The decrease in the permeability can give rise to serious injection problems in the area of the well into which CO2 is injected.

More information:

NWO: CO2 storage in coal can be predicted better - April 10, 2007.
NWO: Prepare CO2 capture and storage now for greater environmental benefit later - April 10, 2007.

Article continues

Petrobras may buy ethanol tankers from Sermetal shipyard

As Brazil steps up its ethanol output and is becoming a global supplier of biofuels, it needs investments in infrastructures to create a smooth logistical chain. A network of dedicated ethanol pipelines is already under construction and now Petroleo Brasileiro SA, Brazil's state-controlled oil company, says it may purchase tankers from Brazilian shipyards to export ethanol as the company moves to quadruple foreign sales of the biofuel.

The ships would expand a plan to build 42 vessels for Rio de Janeiro-based Petrobras's fleet of tankers as increased oil, gas and biofuels production transforms Brazil from an energy importer into an energy exporter, said Sergio Machado, head of Transpetro, the company's transportation unit.

A tropical Saudi Arabia
"We have the land, the sun and the water to become the Saudi Arabia of ethanol," Machado said in an interview at Rio de Janeiro's Sermetal shipyard. "We need to have our own ships to export our output too."

Machado expects the first such ethanol tanker, which would likely be a 75,000 metric-ton, Panamax-class fuel tanker treated to resist the biofuel's corrosive effect on steel, to be built by 2011. Each Panamax-size ethanol tanker would cost about US$130 million to build, the same price as a normal gasoline or general-fuels tanker, he said:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Reviving ship building
Petrobras is in the middle of a US$2.5 billion plan to build 26 tankers for oil, natural gas and other fuels with the first deliveries scheduled for 2009. The plan is part of Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's plan to revive the country's shipbuilding industry, which in the early 1980s was the world's second largest.

Transpetro expects to complete contract negotiations with Brazilian shipyards and Brazil's state development bank, BNDES, for 16 more ships by the end of May. The bank is supplying subsidized loans for up to 90 percent of the costs for the domestically built ships.

Petrobras, which is building ethanol pipelines for export, is also considering plans to ship ethanol on barges using the country's river systems, Sillas Oliva Filho, Petrobras' ethanol sales chief, said in an interview March 27.

Article continues

Venezuela to increase ethanol production, despite criticism of US-Brazil deal

Both Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro heavily criticized the ethanol deal between the US and Brazil for, it seems, purely political reasons. Venezuela and Cuba had already signed an ethanol cooperation agreement amongst themselves before the US and Brazil did the same, and Chavez had even begun to invest considerably in domestic biofuel production. Castro's critique was mainly aimed at corn ethanol, which, he says, takes up so much land and yields so little energy that it will push up prices of food and threaten the poor. On this, the Cuban leader certainly has a point. The issue has opened a lively discussion amongst leaders from the left on what kind of development pathway Latin America should follow (earlier post).

But apparently, biofuels as such are not the real issue because Venezuela's ambassador to Cuba announced his country will step up its own ethanol output even further, despite its earlier criticism. Ambassador Ali Rodriguez said the initiative will produce additives to the gasoline it exports to the US as well as a substitute for gasoline sold domestically.

Rodriguez said the reason behind the increase is the fact that oil-rich Venezuela aims to reduce its dependence on biofuel from Brazil — but not to participate in US efforts to ramp up production of ethanol for cars. Venezuela sees the American-Brazilian initiative as a symbolic attack against Hugo Chavez's attempts to become South America's undisputed leader, with oil as his weapon. The real geopolitical consequences of the US-Brazilian biofuel initiative will be small, though:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Assessments by the Inter-American Development Bank show that Latin America can replace only around 30% of the world's gasoline demand over the long term, so Venezuela would not have to fear that much and will remain a crucial oil supplier for the US.

Brushing away the projected potential, Rodriguez told reporters in Havana that the increased output is "simply to meet an already existing demand, not participate in (the U.S.) plan, which I would call fantasy, which would try to substitute supplies of gasoline from oil with bio-gasoline".

In February, Cuba and Venezuela announced plans to increase sugarcane ethanol production to make cleaner-burning gasoline for cars, by jointly constructing 11 ethanol plants. Cuba had supported ethanol production from sugarcane before the United States and Brazil signed an agreement last month to promote international ethanol use and production. The two countries are the world's leading producers of the alternative fuel, though the US primarily makes corn ethanol.

Article continues

New company called 'Biohydrogen' to make H2 from sugar

The problem with hydrogen is that it is merely an energy carrier and needs a primary energy source from which the gas can be obtained. If this first source is a fossil fuel, then hydrogen isn't really a clean energy carrier. If the gas is made from the electrolysis of water, which is a rather energy-intensive process, then electricity is needed, and the dilemma remains: where do we get the electricity from? And can't we use this electricity directly in less costly batteries instead of making the detour via fuel cells? Using nuclear energy to split water is very expensive, as are solar and wind power, so these options to make hydrogen are cancelled too. For a well-to-wheel analysis of these different H2 production paths and their costs, see our earlier discussion and the graph (click to enlarge). Two thorough critiques of the costly push towards a 'hydrogen economy' that might not be that feasible at all, were presented here and here.

Biohydrogen is probably the most competitive of the non-fossil fuel production routes. There are roughly three main ways of obtaining the gas from biological sources: (1) biochemical conversion (diagram, click to enlarge): chemotrophic or phototrophic micro-organisms are allowed to ferment sugars, under anaerobic or aerobic conditions (depending on the micro-organism) during which hydrogenase or nitrogenase enzymes produce hydrogen directly (on H2 production from cyanobacteria and micro-algae see the last section of our post on biofuels from algae), (2) thermochemical conversion: biomass in solid form (wood, straw, etc) is transformed through gasification into a hydrogen-rich gas, from which the H2 is then separated, or (3) indirectly from biogas: biomass is anaerobically fermented into biogas, the methane of which is further converted into hydrogen (similar to H2 production from natural gas); combinations between biohydrogen and biomethane production are being researched as well.

Biofusion, a British company specialising in the commercialisation of university intellectual property, has now launched [*pdf] a new company to develop such methods of producing commercial quantities of hydrogen from biogenic sources. The company, called BioHydrogen, will focus initially on a metabolically engineered microbial production method capable of producing hydrogen from fermentable sugars.

According to Biofusion, the future of the technology is promising, with initial research results looking positive. "The concept of a hydrogen based energy economy, where hydrogen is produced economically on an industrial scale through a non greenhouse gas generating, renewable process is of significant interest to both governments and the world's major energy providers," commented Biofusion's chief executive David Baynes.

We call this scientific adventure part of the carbohydrate economy, because the original source for the H2 is sugar or starch which can just as well be fermented into liquid biofuels or biomethane, fuels that can already be used in fuel cells (direct alcohol fuel cells and molten carbonate fuel cells operating on biogas):
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

But David Baynes of Biofusion thinks making the detour via hydrogen is still worth investigating. He added that "if the initial impressive results can be built upon to deliver a commercially viable production model for hydrogen, then it could be a radical alternative for the production of hydrogen in a future energy economy."

The new company will receive an initial £200,000 from Biofusion to aid research, with Biofusion retaining a 60 per cent stake in the company.

Biofusion was established in 2002 to commercialise university-generated IP. Biofusion has signed long term agreements with two of the UK’s top ten research intensive universities (University of Sheffield and Cardiff University) giving a combined R&D spend attributable to Biofusion of approximately £114 million a year.

Biofusion’s first agreement was a ten-year exclusive arrangement with the University of Sheffield for the commercialisation of IP owned by the University in the area of medical life sciences. Biofusion has shareholdings in a portfolio of 16 Sheffield University spin-out companies including Asterion, Axordia, Celltran, Lifestyle Choices, Diurnal and Phase Focus. The University of Sheffield was ranked 5th in the UK for the quality of its life sciences research and will be spending an estimated £0.5bn of research funding over the lifetime over the life of the Sheffield Agreement.

In January 2007, Biofusion completed a long-term exclusive agreement with Cardiff University, to commercialise 100% of all Cardiff University’s research-generated IP. Biofusion has shareholdings in a portfolio of seven Cardiff University spin-out companies including Abcellute, Q-Chip and Cardiff Protides. Cardiff University was ranked 7th in the UK in the most recent research rankings and will be spending over £1.0bn of research funding over the lifetime over the life of the Cardiff Agreement.

More information:
H2Daily: "Hydrogen From Sugar- A Sweet Idea" - April 13, 2007.

Biofusion: Biofusion Launches BioHydrogen Ltd to develop a radical new process of producing commercial quantities of hydrogen from sugar [*.pdf] - April 2, 2007.

There is a lot of research going on in biohydrogen, so these are just some pointers:
The BBC has a good overview of the basics of H2 production from micro-organisms, at its H2G2 website.

Iowa State University, Office of Biorenewables Programs: Biological Hydrogen Production from Renewable Organic Wastes.

European biohydrogen projects presented by the Biohydrogen Network.

To stress our love for sweet potatoes and the concept of 'carbohydrate economy' which we randomly linked to this crop - but which was originally thougth out by sci-fi authors - see this article:
Yokoi Haruhiko, Saitsu Akio, et al, "Microbial hydrogen production from sweet potato starch residue" [*abstract], Journal of bioscience and bioengineering, 2001, vol. 91, no1, pp. 58-63.

Article continues

ESA satellite images aid implementation of agricultural reforms

Brazilian ethanol production is highly efficient and sustainable, in part thanks to the utilisation of earth observation (EO) techniques that allow sugarcane farmers and researchers to plan each plot carefully, to monitor productivity, pests and diseases and a host of other agronomic parameters. From the European Space Agency now comes another interesting example of how satellite images can assist in thorough monitoring and planning of land use. In this case, EO is used to the check the application of so-called cross compliance measures – a set of environmental and animal welfare standards that farmers have to respect to receive full funding from the European Union – included in the 2003 reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy.

The ever increasing number of highly finetuned EO-based land use monitoring techniques must make it possible in the future to organise a form of planetary biomass management, that allows us to analyse the optimal distribution of where what types of crop can be grown best, and what kinds of environmental standards should be applied in order to ensure long term sustainability - on a truly planetary scale.

ESA's example demonstrates how very high resolution (VHR) satellite images can monitor whether land is safeguarded in 'Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition' (GAEC) - this information consequently ensures EU subsidies are distributed in a fair and timely manner and helps farmers complete subsidy applications more accurately. One of those subsidies involves energy crops, that must be grown on set-aside land.

High resolution satellites as well as aerial photography have been used for some time to monitor areas where subsidies are provided. VHR EO satellites, however, offer more detail compared with HR satellites and are capable of identifying various landscape features and detecting potential erosion, tillage practices and maintenance of pastures:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Under the GAEC standards implemented in some countries, farmers cannot remove certain landscape features, including hedges, tree rows, water ponds, walls and single trees, without authorisation of national administration in order to preserve habitats for different organisms and species.

By using special classification procedures on VHR satellite images, identification of these landscape features is possible. In combination with digital aerial images, even single trees can be delineated. By comparing older and recent images of these same areas with the processed ‘reference landscape feature’ layer, the removal of these features can be detected.

To protect soils against erosion risks and improve soil structure, the GAEC as applied in some countries, states farmers must establish an ‘environmental cover’ for a buffer width, stipulated by the country itself (e.g. 5 metres), around waterways on all parcels adjacent to waterways to restrict diffuse pollution in waters and soils.

Pastures, permanent crops, woods, hedges and paths are considered ‘environmental cover’, while mainly arable land and crops are not. Because satellite images allow for the interpretation of agricultural parcels, compliancy can be easily detected. Photo interpretation by remote sensing speeds up the process and allows many parcels to be checked in one time.

Tillage practices are also important for reducing erosion as they can reduce the runoff of water across the land surface. The GAEC stipulates that farmers have to plough or plant parallel to contour lines to avoid erosion on slopes more than or equal to a certain percentage defined by the country (e.g. slope of 10 percent).

By detecting parcels within this slope range, detecting the slope direction and the ploughing or planting direction, it is possible to calculate the angle between the slope and ploughing direction, taking into account the soil-sensitivity to erosion, and determine whether the farmer is compliant.

In order to receive subsidies for permanent crops, the GAEC requires that farmers properly maintain them. Using VHR images, the distinction between crops that are ‘maintained good’ and crops that are ‘possibly maintained badly’ can be detected, allowing authorities to visit the fields in question to detect whether they are abandoned or neglected.

This project was funded by ESA’s Earth Observation Market Development (EOMD) programme, aimed at fostering the development of EO data within business practices, and carried out by EUROSENSE, a company that specialises in remote sensing.

Movie: By using special classification procedures on very high resolution (VHR) satellite images, identification of landscape features, including hedges, tree rows, water ponds, walls and single trees, is possible. By comparing older and recent images of these same areas with the processed ‘reference landscape feature’ layer, the removal of these features can be detected. Credits: EUROSENSE.

More information:

European Space Agency: "Satellite images aid implementation of agricultural reforms" - April 13, 2007.

EU Commission: "Renewable energy: Commission welcomes Council agreement on extension of energy crop aid scheme to all Member States" - 19 December 2006

European Commission, Agriculture and Rural Development: CAP reform.

Article continues