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    Taiwan's Feng Chia University has succeeded in boosting the production of hydrogen from biomass to 15 liters per hour, one of the world's highest biohydrogen production rates, a researcher at the university said Friday. The research team managed to produce hydrogen and carbon dioxide (which can be captured and stored) from the fermentation of different strains of anaerobes in a sugar cane-based liquefied mixture. The highest yield was obtained by the Clostridium bacterium. Taiwan News - November 14, 2008.

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Model allows farmers to calculate carbon stored in soils and to sell carbon credits

Last week, the signatories to the UN's Kyoto Protocol convened in Germany to discuss the future of instruments and targets aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Despite a deadlock and pessimism on the chances for a new, post-Kyoto agreement, those worried about climate change still hope a global system of carbon markets will be created. Such an instrument would allow those who are able to sequester carbon in forests, ecosystems and soils, to sell carbon credits to those who want to offset their emissions.

One of the most straightforward and immediate ways to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide and slow global warming is by storing carbon in an inert form in agricultural soils. But before farmers can sell the carbon credits derived from this practise they need to be able to verify that changing soil management has increased the soil organic carbon (SOC) in their fields.

Accuracy key
Researchers at Montana and Colorado State Universities now have evidence that an existing soil model can be used to accurately estimate carbon levels in soil under certain climate and land conditions. By using this model, farmers and landowners will be able to verify soil carbon change for carbon trading. The scientists report their findings [*abstract] on the reliability of the "Century soil model" in the May-June 2007 issue of Soil Science Society of America Journal.

The findings have importance for the development of tools that can measure carbon storage as part of a system of carbon negative biofuel production (see below). The Century model estimates soil organic carbon content and soil organic carbon change using soil texture, weather, and farm management information, says Ross Bricklemyer, lead author of the study.

Working together with farmers from Montana, researchers compared Century model estimates of soil carbon storage to field SOC measurements. Scientists measured carbon storage and soil texture in 10 paired fields under no-till and conventional-till management. They estimated the increase in carbon stored under no-tillage adoption as the difference between carbon levels in no-till and till fields. They then compared the soil carbon values predicted by the Century model to measured SOC and SOC rate of change.

The Century model accurately predicted SOC content and rate of carbon change, however, differences between measured soil texture data and state and county soil texture maps greatly influenced carbon storage estimates:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

"The accuracy and scale of soil texture data highly influence the accuracy of Century model estimations of soil carbon," said Bricklemyer. "The model accurately estimated soil carbon content and the influence soil clay content had on the amount of carbon in the soil."

Although texture was important in determining SOC storage estimates, the effect of no-tillage management on the rate of carbon storage was not influenced by texture in this study. Some scientists have found that high clay content, or heavy soils, store carbon more rapidly under no-tillage management than soils with little clay content, others have found that clay content has no affect on carbon storage rates under no-tillage practice.

Bricklemyer says that because the effects of clay content on the rate of soil carbon under no-tillage change are not well understood by the research community, clay content information was not directly used by the Century model for carbon change calculations.

"This study also points out the importance of establishing benchmark monitoring sites, under actual farm conditions, where soil texture, soil carbon and other soil properties can be accurately measured and re-measured over time," said Bricklemyer. "Such a system, which currently doesn't exist in the U.S., would help us improve and validate estimates of carbon sequestration over time."

Carbon-negative biofuels
The Century soil model primarily looked at changes in soil organic carbon obtained from changing agricultural practises such as tilling versus no-tillage soil management. But there is a more radical way of using soils to store carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by producing carbon negative biofuels.

The idea is to grow energy crops and to transform the biomass into two different products: liquid biofuels and charcoal. This can be done by a process called pyrolysis, which heats biomass in the absence of air, and which results in a syngas and biochar. The syngas can be transformed into liquid biofuels, whereas the char can be sequestered in soils.

This geosequestration technique not only stores carbon, but also increases the fertility of soils, on which new energy crops can then be grown. Such a fuel production system would result in carbon negative biofuels (earlier post). Under such a production scheme, farmers and biofuel producers would sacrifice part of the carbon from the crops that could be transformed into fuel by keeping it in a solid form (charcoal), but they would be able to sell the stored carbon on carbon markets.

This concept is receiving more and more attention from the scientific community as the technique may be more readily and widely applicapble than other carbon storage techniques (such as 'carbon capture and storage' from large power plants, where the carbon from coal, natural gas or biomass would be captured and stored in depleted oil and gas fields or in other sites such as saline aquifers).

Moreover, storing carbon as charcoal in soils is a relatively simple technique that could be adopted rapidly by farmers in the developing world. In the tropics and subtropics, soils are often of low fertility and suffer under aluminum toxicity. Adding biochar could help in solving these problems. In fact, the technique was already known by communities in West Africa and the Amazon (where it is known as 'terra preta' or 'dark earth') who used it thousands of years ago to boost the fertility of their agricultural soils. Contemporary archaeologists and agronomists were baffled when they discovered these sites (earlier post).

The fact that the Century model was used by the researchers from the Montana and Colorado State Universities is an encouraging sign, indicating that work is being done on a scientific approach to the technique of retaining, storing and calculating carbon in soils. The Century model is already being used in the developing world by agronomists to teach farmers there how adapt their farming techniques so that soil organic carbon and fertility is retained. The fact that its accuracy is confirmed and that it becomes a practical tool for actually measuring changes in soil organic carbon levels as a result of farming practises, is promising for farmers in the South.

Image: the CENTURY model, which depicts four scenarios of possible future soil management, is being presented to members of the Conseil Rural in Fissel (Senegal) in order to promote discussion and evaluation of possible strategies to increase the amount of C in soil and biomass. Courtesy: P. Tschakert, Aridlands Newsletter.

More information:
Ross S. Bricklemyera, et al, Sensitivity of the Century Model to Scale-Related Soil Texture Variability, Soil Science Society of America Journal, 71, pp.784-792, published online 5 April 2007, DOI: 10.2136/sssaj2006.0168

Eurekalert: Before selling carbon credits, read this - May 18, 2007.

Biopact: Terra preta: how biofuels can become carbon-negative and save the planet - August 18, 2006

Biopact: Biochar soil sequestration and pyrolysis most climate-friendly way to use biomass for energy - April 26, 2007

Petra Tschakert, "Our carbon is gone; we have to bring it back!" Soil fertility management and social learning in Senegal's drylands, Aridlands Newsletter, No. 58, Winter 2005.

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Lusophone world and China join forces to produce biofuels in Mozambique

For development economists, Mozambique is one of Africa's brightest success stories. After a cruel civil war that lasted nearly two decades (1975-1992), the country organised general elections, took a careful approach to the 'structural adjustment' programs introduced by international institutions like the World Bank and the IMF, and, ensuring political and economic stability, steadily attracted foreign investments. The country's GNI has doubled in the past 5 years, and GDP growth was 7.7% last year (World Bank data).

Some observers have asked why the transition to peace and democracy took so much longer in Angola, that other former Portuguese colony mired in conflict. The answer: the presence of oil and diamonds. As is often the case in Africa, the black gold is a true curse and a barrier to development. Mozambique has more traditional assets, less prone to triggering resource wars, such as a large agricultural potential.

This potential is now being (re)discovered by the Lusophone world. And biofuels are the focus of the attention. Mozambique has several advantages which make it an interesting bioenergy producer: suitable agroclimatic and agro-ecological conditions for a wide range of energy crops, including sugar cane and tree crops; abundant arable land resources, and a largely rural population (amongst the poorest of the world) craving for employment and increased incomes.

Fuel prices have been increasing and put a serious brake on the country's development, which is why the Mozambican government itself is studying the biofuels opportunity. The Energy Ministry says recent increases (9.3% in April, another 3% this week) in prices of diesel, petrol, paraffin, aviation fuel and domestic gas are a result of increased import costs. The Mozambican government has even been forced to enter into negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank for an additional US$50 million in its foreign reserves to strengthen its capacity to import refined fuels. In search for an alternative, the Mozambican government has recently encouraged farmers to start growing biofuel crops such as jatropha. A real policy is not in place yet, but the Lusophone countries - Brazil, Portugal and China (via Macau) - are helping to craft one.

Biofuel 'super power'
Experts from the International Energy Agency estimate that Mozambique alone can produce nearly 7 Exajoules worth of liquid biofuels for exports, without threatening food supplies for its rapidly growing population or biodiversity and protected conservation areas. This amount is roughly equal to a production of 3 million barrels of oil equivalent per day (and given its renewability, this 'green reserve' lasts for decades). In order to actualise the potential, the country does need an influx of investments in agronomic knowledge and skills, logistical infrastructures and biofuel production plants. On all these fronts, the Lusophone world is offering assistance, either trilaterally or bilaterally, in purely private or in public-private ventures.

Sino-Brazilian cooperation
First of all, Brazil's EMBRAPA, the world's leading research organisation dealing with tropical agriculture, is assisting with analysing the biofuel production potential in collaboration with a Portuguese company that acquired 100,000 hectares of land in Mozambique. EMBRAPA already has established an Africa office in Accra, Ghana, from where it enters into cooperation agreements with African countries in the fields of agriculture and bioenergy (earlier post). The same organisation attracted interest from the All China Federation, the world's largest trade union organisation uniting 130 million members, which wants to collaborate on biofuels in Mozambique as well.

China has a growing presence in the country and in Southern Africa in general, mainly aimed at exploiting mineral resources it needs for its own development. But now the rising giant is looking at agriculture and biofuels, and has created a synergy with EMBRAPA: whereas the latter organisation provides agronomic expertise, China will invest in much needed infrastructures (road, rail, waterways) which must make it possible to bring products to market. The cooperation in Mozambique is part of China's US$5 billion investment strategy for Southern Africa. The Portuguese Millennium Bank, via its 'Conselho Comercial China-África', is to open large credit lines for Chinese companies starting infrastructure projects in Mozambique:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Brazil with Portugal and Italy
Secondly, Portugal's Galp Energia today created a joint-venture with Brazil's Petrobras, aimed at producing 600,000 tons of second-generation biodiesel ('H-Bio') in Brazil, for exports to Portugal. But both companies are now studying to involve Mozambique (and Angola) in the effort, because feedstock production there can serve efforts to alleviate poverty and bring employment to small farmers. 400,000 to 800,000 hectares of suitable land have been identified there.

Likewise, Petrobras and Italy's state-owned oil company ENI, are collaborating on both ethanol and biodiesel production in Mozambique (earlier post). The Italian giant is increasing its presence in Africa in traditional oil production, most notably in Angola and Congo, where it is also looking at exploring the biofuels potential.

Win-win synergy
Mozambique stands to gain from such 'trilateral' approaches to development. It will be crucial to distribute the country's rapidly growing economic wealth amongst the general population. One way to do this is by modernising agriculture and by creating new markets like the bioenergy market.

Since biofuel production is labor intensive and draws upon imputs from farmers, the opportunity is the best there is to activate the rural populations. Foreign knowledge and technology is needed to help farmers increase productivity, since Mozambican peasants currently use their land very inefficiently (yields are extremely low because of a lack of the most basic inputs, such as fertilizers, good quality seeds and basic agronomic knowledge). By drawing on this expertise from outside, and because of much-needed investments in infrastructures (such as tertiary and secondary roads connecting the country-side to main roads), a positive synergy between food and fuel production can be created: increased farmers' incomes from biofuel feedstock production can be invested in more efficient food production, and vice-versa.

More information:
Jornal Mundo Lusíada: Banco Millennium financiará aporte chinês em Angola e Moçambique - May 15, 2007.

Jornal de Notícias: Galp investe 50 milhões na refinaria de Matosinhos - May 19, 2007.

Sunday Times (South Africa): Fuel price up in Mozambique - May 19, 2007.

Macau Hub: Estatal brasileira Embrapa vai investir em África nos países onde a China vai aplicar cinco mil milhões de dólares - May 7, 2007.

Article continues

Friday, May 18, 2007

Researchers improve bio-oil refining, aim for carbon negative production system

A team of University of Georgia (UGA) researchers has improved the processing of bio-oil (pyrolysis oil) into biofuels that can be mixed with diesel. Unlike previous pyrolysis fuels derived from wood, the new and still unnamed fuel can be blended directly with biodiesel and petroleum diesel to power conventional engines.

The group's findings [*abstract] are detailed in the early online edition of the American Chemical Society journal Energy and Fuels. Tom Adams, author and director of the UGA Faculty of Engineering outreach service, explains that scientists have long been able to derive oils from wood, but they had been unable to process it effectively or inexpensively so that it can be used in conventional engines. The researchers have developed a new chemical process, which they are working to patent, that inexpensively treats the oil so that it can be used straight in unmodified diesel engines or blended with biodiesel and petroleum diesel.
"The exciting thing about our method is that it is very easy to do. We expect to reduce the price of producing fuels from biomass dramatically with this technique. [...] This research will really benefit the citizens of the state, and that fits perfectly into the mission of a land grant institution. Georgia has 24 million acres of forested land, and we could see increased employment and tax revenues based on this research. Another huge benefit is that this fuel would reduce the amount of fuel we import from other states and from other countries." - Tom Adams, director of the UGA Faculty of Engineering
The new process works as follows: wood chips and pellets - roughly a quarter inch in diameter and six-tenths of an inch long - are heated in the absence of oxygen at a high temperature, a process known as pyrolysis. Up to a third of the dry weight of the wood becomes charcoal, while the rest becomes a gas. Most of this gas is condensed into a liquid bio-oil and chemically treated. When the process is complete, about 34 percent of the bio-oil (or 15 to 17 percent of the dry weight of the wood) can be used to power engines. The researchers are currently working to improve the process to derive even more oil from the wood.

Towards carbon-negative biofuels
Adams points out that the pyrolysis system offers an opportunity to make biofuels radically carbon-negative, meaning that they do not merely reduce heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but actually take more of it out than they release (see: "Biochar soil sequestration and pyrolysis most climate-friendly way to use biomass for energy"). As long as new trees are planted to replace the ones used to create the fuel, the biofuel is carbon-neutral. But if the charcoal fraction obtained from pyrolysis is stored as a fertilizer in soils, then the biofuel becomes carbon-negative:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The researchers have created test plots to explore whether the charcoal can indeed be used as a fertilizer. If the economics work for the charcoal fertilizer, going carbon negative becomes a very green option.
"You're taking carbon out of the atmosphere when you grow a plant, and if you don't use all of that carbon and return some of it to the soil in an inert form, you're actually decreasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We're optimistic because in most types of soil, carbon char has very beneficial effects on the ecology of the soil, its productivity and its ability to maintain fertility."
The idea of storing "bio-char" or "carbon black" into soils is thousands of years old. Scientists working in the Amazon and in the West African rainforest found that native populations had been using the technique of sequestring charcoal in soils for millennia. Such "terra preta" or "dark earth" plots are surprisingly fertile compared to non-treated soils (earlier post). The technique is currently receiving a lot of attention from the renewable energy community and from climate scientists alike, because it promises to offer a reliable and affordable method to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The process could be implemented on a vast scale in low-fertility and problematic soils across the tropics and the subtropics.

But more research is needed. As Adams says, although the new biofuel with carbon negative potential has performed well, further tests will allow the researchers to assess its long-term impact on engines, its emissions characteristics and the best way to transport and store it. "It's going to take a while before this fuel is widely available", Adams said. "We've just started on developing a new technology that has a lot of promise."

The research was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the Georgia Traditional Industries Pulp and Paper Research Program and the State of Georgia upon the recommendation of the Governor's Agriculture Advisory Committee.

More information:
Manuel Garcia-Perez, Thomas T. Adams, John W. Goodrum, Daniel P. Geller, and K. C. Das, "Production and Fuel Properties of Pine Chip Bio-oil/Biodiesel Blends" [*abstract], Energy and Fuels, May 18, 2007, ASAP Article 10.1021/ef060533e S0887-0624(06)00533-0.

University of Georgia: New biofuel from trees developed at UGA: Still-unnamed fuel can be blended with biodiesel, petroleum diesel - May 18, 2007.

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Southern Ocean carbon sink weakens

Scientists have observed the first evidence that the Southern Ocean’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide, the major greenhouse gas, has weakened by about 15 per cent per decade since 1981. The Southern Ocean normally cycles about 15% of the world's carbon dioxide, but can no longer keep up. Researchers had predicted this weakening would occur somewhere in the second half of this century, not this soon. The Southern Ocean's efficiency at cycling vast amounts of carbon dioxide is due to its cool waters.

Now a four-year study by scientists from Germany's Max-Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) reveals that an increase in winds over the Southern Ocean, caused by greenhouse gases and ozone depletion, has led to a release of stored CO2 into the atmosphere and is now preventing further absorption of the greenhouse gas.

The study [*abstract] published in Science today shows that this weakening of one of the Earth’s major carbon dioxide sinks will lead to higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide in the long-term, in what is called a 'positive feedback'.
"This is the first time that we've been able to say that climate change itself is responsible for the saturation of the Southern Ocean sink. This is serious. All climate models predict that this kind of 'feedback' will continue and intensify during this century. The Earth's carbon sinks - of which the Southern Ocean accounts for 15% � absorb about half of all human carbon emissions. With the Southern Ocean reaching its saturation point more CO2 will stay in our atmosphere." - Lead author Dr Corinne Le Quéré, UEA and BAS.
The new research suggests that stabilisation of atmospheric CO2 is even more difficult to achieve than previously thought. Additionally, acidification in the Southern Ocean is likely to reach dangerous levels earlier than the projected date of 2050.

The Biopact thinks these findings once again strengthen the case of those who say we may already be facing a 'dangerous climate change' scenario that warrants radical interventions and the uncompromising implementation of the precautionary principle. Likewise, the case for the massive introduction of carbon negative bioenergy systems ('BECS') that take historic CO2 emissions out of the atmosphere is becoming ever stronger:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Professor Chris Rapley, Director of British Antarctic Survey makes the point on the need to limit our reliance on fossil fuels: "Since the beginning of the industrial revolution the world's oceans have absorbed about a quarter of the 500 gigatons of carbon emitted into the atmosphere by humans. The possibility that in a warmer world the Southern Ocean - the strongest ocean sink - is weakening is a cause for concern."

The saturation of the Southern Ocean was revealed by scrutinising observations of atmospheric CO2 from 40 stations around the world. Since 1981 the Southern Ocean sink ceased to increase, whereas CO2 emissions increased by 40%.

Dr Paul Fraser, who leads research into atmospheric greenhouse gases at Australia's CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, says the international team’s four-year study concludes that the weakening is due to human activities.

“The researchers found that the Southern Ocean is becoming less efficient at absorbing carbon dioxide due to an increase in wind strength over the Ocean, resulting from human-induced climate change,” Dr Fraser says.

“The increase in wind strength is due to a combination of higher levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and long-term ozone depletion in the stratosphere, which previous CSIRO research has shown intensifies storms over the Southern Ocean.”

The increased winds influence the processes of mixing and upwelling in the ocean, which in turn cause an increased release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, reducing the net absorption of carbon dioxide into the ocean.

More information:
Corinne Le Quéré, et al., Saturation of the Southern Ocean CO2 Sink Due to Recent Climate Change, Science, Published Online May 17, 2007, Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1136188

Eurekalert: Climate change affects Southern Ocean carbon sink - May 18, 2007.

CSIRO: Southern ocean carbon sink weakened - May 18, 2007.

Article continues

Australia and South Korea team up to produce bioproducts from sugarcane

Australia may take a place in the front line of the global biochemical industry thanks to a new partnership between the University of Queensland (UQ) and the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). Both institutions have teamed up to develop and patent the technology to convert sugar cane into bioplastics and green chemicals. The UQ-KAIST partnership matches Queensland's strengths in sugar cane production with South Korea's status as a global chemicals giant. The goal of the agreement is to fuse biotechnology and nanotechnology to create hyper-efficient biorefineries that convert sugar cane into a multitude of green products.

Queensland Premier Peter Beattie was present at the signing of the UQ-KAIST agreement in Seoul earlier this month. UQ Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Greenfield, who signed the collaboration deal, said that the trillion dollar global chemical industry was expected to shift gradually from reliance on oil to reliance on biomass in coming decades.
“Researchers from UQ's Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) and KAIST will aim to perfect the technology to use sugar cane instead of fossil fuel to manufacture plastics and chemicals. As well as assisting economic growth and job creation in Australia, this will help Australians contribute to a better global environment." - University of Queensland Vice-Chancellor Paul Greenfield
According to Greenfield, replacing oil with sugarcane would reduce the use of non-renewable resources for chemicals by up to 90 percent. Chemical production currently accounts for seven percent of the world's energy use.

Mr Beattie said: “Now we have one of the world's top research partnerships on the case, and that means we're driving a whole new industry.” The emerging green chemistry sector offers the potential to create jobs in regional Australia. Ideally, biorefineries will be built close to cane farms in order to use low cost, green energy supplied by bagasse (a sugar by-product), whereas the chemical building blocks of the plant will be used for the production of renewable and biodegradable plastics, detergents, drugs, glues, gels, and biopolymers. About 1000 employees would be needed to build a biorefinery.

Recent advances in biotechnology allow scientists to “program” microorganisms to make complex chemicals from simple renewables such as sugar cane. KAIST, regarded as the “MIT of South Korea”, is a world leader in this programming, while UQ's AIBN has world-class experts in bioplastic production and characterization:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

“We have things that South Korea needs: raw materials for biochemicals; and bioplastics research expertise,” Professor Greenfield added. AIBN is Australia's only fully-integrated research institution where scientists and engineers collaborate to solve problems at the point where biotechnology and nanotechnology meet.

Other players are looking at sugar cane for bioproducts too. Earlier this month, leading green chemistry company Metabolix announced a collaboration with the Cooperative Research Centre for Sugar Industry Innovation through Biotechnology, an alliance of Australia's sugarcane biotechnology research organizations, to develop natural plastics from sugarcane.

The future of biobased products hints at decentralisation and reliance on local biomass resources. This paradigm set to benefit developing countries who are currently dependent on foreign petrochemical industries. Small countries with a thriving sugar cane industry have already seen the opportunity. The tiny Indian Ocean state of Réunion, for example, recently launched an ambitious research program aimed at building a biorefinery in the next four years that will rely on utilising sugar cane to produce a range of bioproducts and biofuels.

More information:
University of Queensland: Sugar hit for “green” chemical industry - May 3, 2007.

Biopact: Metabolix to develop bioplastics from sugarcane - May 09, 2007

Biopact: Sugar cane has "enormous potential for green chemistry" - September 03, 2006

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Zimbabwe's jatropha project receives US$11.6 million

The governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe has announced the institution has so far disbursed 2.9 billion Zimbabwean dollars (€8.6/US$11.6 million) for the national biodiesel project out of a total of $3 billion availed by the country's government last year.

Zimbabwe's biodiesel project is aimed at avoiding fuel shortages which have become a factor in the country's economic decline. The program is primarily based on the cultivation of Jatropha curcas, a drought tolerant shrub the oil-rich seeds of which make for a biodiesel feedstock. Responding to questions from parliamentarians in Harare, the bank's governor Dr Gideon Gono said a total of $2,937 billion has so far been invested into the biodiesel project leaving a balance of $62 million.

Finealt Engineering, a registered company wholly owned by the government, is running the project. The funds are being used for plant design equipment, vehicle expenditures, recurrent expenditures, salaries, office furniture and stationery and consultancy fees. The governor further noted that site preparation, which included soil tests, site clearing, environmental impact assessment, topographical survey and erection of the site offices had been completed.

Civil works at the site are in progress. However, there is a challenge of financial resources to pay the contractor. Procurement of equipment, which includes steel vessels, oil expellers, lab and workshop equipment, earthing and pumping material have been delayed largely due to shortages of foreign currency.

Currently, farmers are selling a tonne of jatropha seeds grown on their own small plots of land for 60,000 Zimbabwean dollars (€178/US$240) per ton. With an oil content of 40% and processing efficiencies based on small human powered oil expellers, this jatropha oil is competitive when crude oil prices are above US$60 per barrel. If operations were to be scaled-up and automated, the plant oil would have a considerably larger margin:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Finealt Engineering is working towards scaling up the industry and has applied for clearance to plant Jatropha cuttings along the major roads of the nine districts in Mashonaland East from the Department of Works in the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and Urban Development in an effort to increase national production of the high oil-yielding plant.

Currently, Finealt is in the process of purchasing Jatropha seed for processing once the plant is set up. A total site area of 102 hectares, which includes 50 hectares targeted for the production of jatropha seedlings has been set aside so far.

Since 2005, Zimbabwe's government through the Ministry of Energy and Power Development and the National Oil Company of Zimbabwe has been stepping up efforts to promote the production of the Jatropha curcas plant as an alternative source of biodiesel to avert fuel shortages in the country. It established a Jatropha Growers and Bio-fuels Association aimed at disseminating information, technology and agricultural inputs to farmers.

Apart from extracting biodiesel fuel from jatropha, the government is also collaborating with Triangle Limited to reopen an ethanol blending plant which is expected to reduce the country's fuel imports by 10 percent when it becomes operational later this year.

More information:
The Daily Mirror (Harare): Bio-diesel project at advanced stage [*cache]- August 31, 2006

The Herald (Harare): Biodiesel project gets $2,9 billion - May 18, 2007.

Overview of Jatropha projects in Zimbabwe.

Article continues

World's largest iron producer CVRD to use biodiesel in its trains

In what is a major boost to Brazil's biodiesel industry, the president of state-owned company Petrobras Distribuidora (BR), Graça Foster, and the logistics executive director at mining giant Companhia Vale do Rio Doce (CVRD), Eduardo Bartolomeu, have signed a contract [*Portuguese] for the supply of B20, a mixture of 20% biodiesel and 80% common diesel to the mining company.

The fuel will be used in the locomotives that operate on the Carajás Railway and on the Railway connecting Vitória (in Espírito Santo) to Minas Gerais, both in southeastern Brazil.

The contract propels CVRD to the status of one of the biggest consumers of biodiesel in the world. Vale do Rio Doce is the largest logistics service provider in Brazil and the largest producer and exporter of iron ore in the world.

The deal is part of broader fuel supply agreement worth 10 billion reais (€3.8/US$5.1 billion) over 5 years, with Petrobras delivering 1.807 billion liters of biodiesel, diesel, and gasoline per year.

In total Petrobras Distribuidora will open 80 supply points across the country covering the mining, melting and logistical operations of CVRD. The project will create 600 direct jobs.

Currently, CVRD is present in 13 Brazilian states, has business in countries on four continents and offices in New York, Brussels, Johannesburg, Tokyo and Shanghai. The company is the largest private company in Latin America.

Brazil is working to provide incentives to the use of cleaner fuels, like biodiesel, and CVRD's uptake of the biofuel is a major step forward for the industry. Brazil's recently launched Pro-Biodiesel program is aimed at producing sustainable biodiesel, in which small farmers play a role through the Social Fuel policy (earlier post).

Petrobras for its part has made several biofuel innovations, including the development of a new type of biodiesel, called H-Bio which is made from hydrogenating vegetable oils in existing oil refineries:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

CVRD announced in January a US$6.334 billion investment budget for 2007. According to the mining company, the budget includes the highest amount ever spent in organic growth in the history of the company, as well as investments on Inco, a Canadian mining company acquired by Vale do Rio Doce last year.

Total investments in 2006 were higher, at US$ 26 billion, but that was due to the purchases made by Vale. The company paid US$ 19 billion for Inco, US$ 2.4 billion for Caemi, US$ 47 million for Rio Verde Mineração, and US$ 27.5 million to own all shares of Valesul. Purchases not included, US$ 4.5 million were effectively invested last year, that is, US$ 1.8 million less than the value forecasted for this year.

The company plans on spending US$ 1.698 billion to maintain its existing operations, US$ 4.230 billion in projects, and US$ 406 million in research and development.

The company will invest US$ 1.635 billion in flagship sector, which is iron minerals; US$ 811 million in the aluminum sector; US$ 720 million in logistics services; US$ 2.55 billion in non-iron minerals; US$ 209 million in coal, US$ 101 million in electric energy, US$ 114 million in the steel sector; and US$ 197 million in other sectors.

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Chile slashes taxes on biofuels to avoid social and health crisis

Quicknote bioenergy economics
It's winter time in the Southern hemisphere, and in Chile this means people start to heat their homes with natural gas or fuel oil. Cold temperatures in Argentina this week however decreased the supply of gas to Chile. Even though the Argentinean government declared that Chileans will be provided their regular supply of gas, the latter are seeking energy alternatives to ensure supplies for the country. Increased energy prices for transport fuels and natural gas means millions of poor and low income families are forced to choose between reducing their mobility or heating less. A cruel choice, for in many parts of Chile winter means temperatures below zero whereas mobility is an equally basic need.

In order to avoid such a potential social and health crisis caused by energy poverty, the Chilean Ministers of Economy, Energy, Agriculture and Revenue - led by the left-wing government of President Bachelet - have decided to exempt biofuels from a tax in order to promote their use to boost energy security.

According to Ecoperiódico [*Spanish], the tax applies to gasoline and diesel, and with this measure the prices of bioethanol and biodiesel will be a third of the price of one liter of gasoline. This must allow the poor and lower incomes to save on energy expenditures, or at least to make it through winter.
Chile decided this Wednesday to eliminate a specific tax on biofuel, that is also paid on gasoline and diesel in order to promote their use. This takes place in the middle of the concerns about the reduced supply of gas from Argentina, which is the only supplier of this resource.
The note continues explaining that Chile imports almost all of the fuel it consumes, and this decision will help reduce the fluctuations in fuel prices and gas supply. One of the most affected areas is the northern part of the country. Here, the Ministry of the Interior is working on an agreement [*Spanish] with the University of Tarapacá to develop a test field of Jatropha curcas on 1,500 hectares. The oil-seeds of this crop yields a feedstock for cold tolerant biodiesel that can be used in vehicles as well as in heating stoves and boilers [entry ends here].
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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Scientists demonstrate first use of nanotechnology to enter plant cells

A team of plant scientists and material chemists have for the first time successfully used nanotechnology to penetrate plant cell walls and simultaneously deliver a gene and a chemical that triggers its expression with controlled precision. Their breakthrough brings nanotechnology to plant biology and agricultural biotechnology, creating a powerful new tool for targeted deliveries of DNA and drugs into plant cells. Experts think this kind of confluence of biotech and nanotech will find many applications in the bioenergy and biofuels sector (see our 'Quick look at nanotechnology in agriculture, food and bioenergy').

The research titled "Mesoporous Silica Nanoparticles Deliver DNA and Chemicals into Plants" [*abstract] is a highlighted article in the May issue of Nature Nanotechnology. The scientists are Kan Wang, professor of agronomy and director of the Center for Plant Transformation, Plant Sciences Institute; Victor Lin, professor of chemistry and senior scientist, U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory; Brian Trewyn, assistant scientist in chemistry; and Francois Torney, formerly a post-doctoral scientist in the Center for Plant Transformation and now a scientist with Biogemma, Clermond-Ferrand, France.

Currently, scientists can successfully introduce a gene into a plant cell. In a separate process, chemicals are used to activate the gene's function. But the process is imprecise and the chemicals could be toxic to the plant.

With mesoporous nanoparticles, the scientists succeeded in delivering two biogenic species at the same time. "We can bring in a gene and induce it in a controlled manner at the same time and at the same location. That's never been done before", says professor Wang. The controlled release will improve the ability to study gene function in plants. And in the future, scientists could use the new technology to deliver imaging agents or chemicals inside cell walls. This would provide plant biologists with a window into intracellular events:
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The team from Iowa State University, which has been working on the research in plants for less than three years, started with a proprietary technology developed previously by Lin's research group. It is a porous, silica nanoparticle system. Spherical in shape, the particles have arrays of independent porous channels. The channels form a honeycomb-like structure that can be filled with chemicals or molecules.

"One gram of this kind of material can have a total surface area of a football field, making it possible to carry a large payload," Trewyn said. Lin's nanoparticle has a unique "capping" strategy that seals the chemical goods inside. In previous studies, his group successfully demonstrated that the caps can be chemically activated to pop open and release the cargo inside of animal cells. This unique feature provides total control for timing the delivery

The team's first attempt to use the porous silica nanoparticle to deliver DNA through the rigid wall of the plant cell was unsuccessful. The technology had worked more readily in animals cells because they don't have walls. The nanoparticles can enter animal cells through a process called endocytosis - the cell swallows or engulfs a molecule that is outside of it. The biologists attempted to mimic that process by removing the wall of the plant cell (called making protoplasts), forcing it to behave like an animal cell and swallow the nanoparticle. It didn't work.

They decided instead to modify the surface of the particle with a chemical coating. "The team found a chemical we could use that made the nanoparticle look yummy to the plant cells so they would swallow the particles," Torney said. It worked. The nanoparticles were swallowed by the plant protoplasts, which are a type of spherical plant cells without cell walls.

Most plant transformation, however, occurs with the use of a gene gun, not through endocytosis. In order to use the gene gun to introduce the nanoparticles to walled plant cells, the chemists made another clever modification on the particle surface. They synthesized even smaller gold particles to cap the nanoparticles. These "golden gates" not only prevented chemical leakage, but also added weight to the nanoparticles, enabling their delivery into the plant cell with the standard gene gun.

The biologists successfully used the technology to introduce DNA and chemicals to Arabidopsis, tobacco and corn plants. "The most tremendous advantage is that you can deliver several things into a plant cell at the same time and release them whenever you want," Torney said.

"Until now, you were at nature's mercy when you delivered a gene into a cell," Lin said. "There's been no precise control as to whether the cells will actually incorporate the gene and express the consequent protein. With this technology, we may be able to control the whole sequence in the future."

And once you get inside the plant cell wall, it opens up "whole new possibilities," Wang said. "We really don't know what's going on inside the cell. We're on the outside looking in. This gets us inside where we can study the biology per se," Wang said.

Image: mesoporous silica nanoparticles were used as the tool to break into the plant cells to deliver DNA and chemicals in a controlled manner.

More information:
François Torney, Brian G. Trewyn, Victor S.-Y. Lin and Kan Wang, "Mesoporous silica nanoparticles deliver DNA and chemicals into plants" [*abstract], Nature Nanotechnology 2, 295 - 300 (2007), published online: 29 April 2007 | doi:10.1038/nnano.2007.108

Iowa State University News Service: Iowa State scientists demonstrate first use of nanotechnology to enter plant cells - May 16, 2007.

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The bioeconomy at work: buildings made of biomass ash?

As the use of biomass in large power plants becomes more common, a problem arises: what to do with the large amount of ash that results from burning the renewable energy source? In Europe and the US (database of current co-firing projects, at the IEA Bioenergy Task 32 on Combustion and Cofiring) and China, biomass is being used more and more often to generate electricity and heat, either in dedicated power plants that exclusively burn the green resource (such as the Les Awirs plant in Belgium), or co-fired with coal in existing plants. This biomass can be divided into several categories, ranging from heavily contaminated wood (e.g. demolition wood that contains scraps of glass, steel, plastics, paint etc...) and agricultural residues (such as rice husks), to pure, clean biomass from dedicated energy crops.

Depending on the category, the resuling ash types contain different concentrations of heavy metals such as nickel, vanadium, arsenic, cadmium, barium, chromium, copper, molybdenum, zinc, lead, and selenium. Though these elements are found in extremely low concentrations, their presence warrants careful and often costly waste treatment procedures to prevent leaching into the soil.

For this reason, scientists have been searching for alternatives to landfill disposal. Amongst them is Jan Pels from the Energy Research Center of the Netherlands (ECN), who led a research team working on a project called 'BIOAS' [*.pdf/Dutch, English abstract]. While a group of scientists from the University of Leeds did similar work on rice husk ash [*.pdf] which has some importance for the developing world. Finally, scientists from the Brigham Young University in Utah worked on analysing whether biomass ash can replace cement [*.pdf] in concrete, like coal ash has been used for this purpose for quite a while now. All teams obtained encouraging results: biomass ash can be used to build houses and skyscrapers. What is more, the product can replace building materials that have a heavy CO2 footprint. Utilizing this waste stream from the combustion of biomass also boosts the sustainability of solid biofuels.

The Dutch team found a way to use biomass ash in combination with a heavy petroleum residue, the carbon of which can thus be fixed, whereas the British researchers looked at a combination of waste materials, including ash from burned rice husks, to make what they call a 'Bitublock'. They are also working on a concrete-like building material based on vegetable oil as a binder ('Vegeblock'). Finally the American team found that fly ash from pure wood and switchgrass matches the properties of coal ash, and can replace Portland cement in concrete:
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The BIOAS Project
BIOAS started with the ideal scenario which says that ash from clean, uncontaminated biomass should be returned to the soil where the biomass grew so that nutrients and minerals are recycled.

However in many cases recycling is not possible, for example with ash from contaminated biomass (e.g. demolition wood), ash where the origins of the biomass cannot be traced (becoming common with increased trade of feedstocks), or in cases where the land owner does not want the ash returned (e.g. natural reserves or farm land).

In these cases, alternative forms of sustainable utilisation had to be found. ECN investigated the possibilities for the use of ash generated from clean biomass in power production and concluded that for nearly all biomass ash a technically acceptable solution can be found.

Construction materials
The largest potential lies in several kinds of construction material ranging from filler in concrete, to bricks, or even synthetic basalt. Particular kinds of ash can be used as raw material for fertilizers. Black, carbon-rich ash from gasification could even be used as fuel, to replace cokes, or as activated carbon in a multitude of applications.

However many of the solutions are more expensive than landfill disposal because of the small amounts produced and strong fluctuations in composition. Recycling ash to the soil where the clean biomass originated is already possible in Scandinavia and Austria, but in the Netherlands such specific regulations for recycling of biomass ash do not exist and are unlikely to be implemented soon. The situation could improve if large-scale imports of clean biomass begin. In this case, Dutch legislation needs updating to enable export of the ash back to the country (and soil) of origin. However, when long distance trade is involved (such as imports from dedicated energy plantations in Africa), returning the ash would become too expensive.

Fixing carbon while storing biomass ash
For the Netherlands, using biomass ash in building material is a more likely scenario. Bottom ash from biomass combustion is already used as a building material (granulate 0-40). But in the BIOAS Project, gasification ash was successfully tested as filler in a promising concrete-like building material with heavy petroleum residue as binder, called 'C-FIX'. The ECN is currently investigating other routes to produce innovative building materials from biomass ash.

C-FIX (derived from 'carbon fixation') is a product developed by Shell Global Solutions and marketed by subsidiary C-fix BV. The starting material is an extremely hard, carbon-rich residue obtained from petroleum refining. This residue is currently added to marine bunker fuels and heavy fuel oil used in power plants. Upon burning it, an extremely high amount of carbon dioxide is released, making it a very polluting fuel.

A more environmentally friendly way of using the material is to use it as a component in building materials. This way, the carbon is fixed during the lifecycle of the product and doesn't contribute to atmospheric CO2 pollution.

The properties of C-FIX range between those of cement concrete and asphalt. It is strong but flexible thermoplastic binder that resists acids and bases. Moreover, the binder can not only be combined with traditional aggregates such as sand and filler, but with other aggregates such as recycled asphalt, river sludge and waste granulates.

The BIOAS project studied the possibility of using biomass ash as an aggregate for C-FIX, and results were encouraging. The test material conformed to Dutch norms on leaching of macro and micro elements. Five different building blocks made from different types of biomass ash also showed excellent physical properties.

The conclusion of the project was that biomass ash can be used successfully as a building material composed of binders such as C-FIX.

Bitublock and Vegeblock
C-FIX relies on a heavy petroleum product, the carbon of which is fixed. However, in another development, researchers from the University of Leeds found that ash from rice husks can be used safely as a concrete filler, not unlike coal fly ash, which is already used for this purpose.

The team led by John Forth worked at developing a building block made almost entirely of recycled glass, metal slag, sewage sludge, incinerator ash, and pulverised fuel ash from power stations, including ash from rice husks.

Dr Forth, from the School of Engineering, believes his Bitublock has the potential to revolutionise the building industry by providing a sustainable, low-energy replacement for around 350 million concrete blocks manufactured in the UK each year. "Our aim is to completely replace concrete as a structural material", he explained.

Bitublocks use up to 100% waste materials and avoid sending them to landfill, which is quite unheard of in the building industry. What's more, less energy is required to manufacture the Bitublock than a traditional concrete block, and it's about six times as strong, so it's quite a high-performance product.

The secret ingredient is bitumen, a sticky substance used to bind the mixture of waste products together, before compacting it in a mould to form a solid block. Next the block is heat-cured, which oxidises the bitumen so it hardens like concrete.

This makes it possible to use a higher proportion of waste in the Bitublock than by using a cement or clay binder. The Bitublock could put to good use each year an estimated 400,000 tonnes of crushed glass and 500,000 tonnes of incinerator ash.

Meanwhile, a 'Vegeblock' is also under development, based on using vegetable oil as the binder. This would make for the greenest of all concrete-like building materials. The researchers found that waste vegetable oil can easily be mixed with recycled aggregates at ambient temperatures to produce a very workable, easily compactable product. Contrary to the Bitublock, he visual appearance of Vegeblocks is highly attractive in that the units reflect the colour of the aggregates used in the manufacturing process.

The Vegeblock's color changes according to the type of vegetable oil that is used during its manufacture

Curing is required to fully oxidise the vegetable oil and hence stabilise the block. However, due to totally different chemical composition of vegetable oils as opposed to bitumens (mineral oil derivatives), the curing regime is far shorter. Typically curing a Vegeblock only consists of heating for 12 to 24 hours at 120 to 160 °C. The properties of the Vegeblock are at least equivalent to concrete blocks.

Biomass ash as a replacement for cement in concrete
Shuangzhen Wang and Larry Baxter from the Department of Chemical Engineering at the Brigham Young University recently presented their "Comprehensive Investigation of Biomass Fly Ash in Concrete" at the Advanced Combustion Engineering Research Center's congress.

They first looked at the strength and microscopy of coal ash concrete, then at the strength and kinetics of concrete with a biomass fly ash filler, and finally at the durability of the material. The analysis looked at five different forms of concrete based on fly-ashes obtained from co-firing coal with respectively switchgrass and saw dust from pure wood, in different ratios.

Their conclusions on biomass fly ash look as follows:
  • Equal strength to that of pure cement concrete from 1 month to 1 year after mixing.
  • Significant pozzolanic reaction up to one year in concrete.
  • 3-6 times the strength of coal ash samples with Ca(OH)2.
  • Comparable strength with Ca(OH)2 even to pure cement.
  • Quantitative kinetics has been derived
  • Matches or outperforms coal ash in reducing ASR expansion
This means that biomass fly ash, in this case derived from pure wood and switchgrass, can potentially be used as a replacement for Portland cement in the production of concrete.

Without taking things too far, developments in using biomass ash for construction materials are very encouraging, which opens opportunities for the developing world. There, large streams of agricultural residues (such as rice husks) as well as the potential for dedicated biomass crops is available. If this renewable energy resource were to be combusted in dedicated and efficient biomass power plants there, an important component of affordable and reliable building materials would become available and the sustainability of solid biofuels would be enhanced.

Image: the Sears Tower in Chicago, long the tallest building in the US, was built from concrete containing coal fly ash. Will a green Sears Tower ever be built from concrete based on biomass fly ash?

More information:
ECN: Askwaliteit en toepassingsmogelijkheden bij verbranding van schone biomassa (BIOAS) [*.pdf] - April 2004.

BioEnergy Network of Excellence: "A House built of biomass ash" [*.pdf], Newsletter, Volume 1, Issue 3, July 2005.

John Forth, "Non-Traditional Binders for Construction Materials" [*.pdf], IABSE Henderson Colloquium, Cambridge, 10-12 July 2006 Engineering for Sustainable Cities.

Eurekalert: New homes rise from rubbish - April 2, 2007.

C-FIX website.

Shuangzhen Wang, Larry Baxter, Comprehensive Investigation of Biomass Fly Ash in Concrete: Strength, Microscopy, Quantitative Kinetics and Durability [*.pdf] - Brigham Young University ACERC annual conference, February 28, 2007.

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The bioeconomy at work: cellulose fibre-reinforced PLA bioplastic with improved heat resistance, rigidity and moldability

Toray Industries, Inc. today announced that it has successfully developed a plant fiber-reinforced polylactic acid (PLA) plastic with improved heat resistance, rigidity and moldability by compounding cellulose-based plant fibers with PLA.

Able to withstand heat up to 150°C, which is the highest level in the world for biomass plastics, the newly developed plastic has double the rigidity of existing PLA plastics and has achieved significant reduction in the time required for molding.

Furthermore, the company succeeded in radically improving the properties of biomass plastics by accomplishing superior exterior of plastic mixed with plant fiber. Toray intends to promote the product in wide-ranging applications including automobile parts, electrical and electronic parts, civil engineering and construction materials and furniture.

Until now, companies and research institutes have been focusing on development of technology that blends plant fiber as reinforcement material for improving the strength of PLA. However, there were limitations to deploy such plastics in practical applications due to reasons such as inferior exteriors of molded products caused by uneven mixing, tendency of PLA to decompose at molding, long molding cycle in injection molding and low heat resistance. However, with an injection molding method that is superior in mass production capability, the new technology will enable the manufacture of PLA plastic products possessing heat resistance and rigidity equivalent to or better than existing petroleum-based plastics:

The features of the new technology are as follows:
  1. Development of proprietary resin compounding technology: In addition to solving the problem of PLA’s tendency to breakup at the time of molding, the Company’s proprietary compounding technology to combine PLA and plant fiber enabled the improvement of exterior and rigidity of molded products. The technology also allows raising the ratio of plant fiber in the plastic to maximum 50% through uniform mixing and micro-dispersion of the fiber and enables the molding of foam products.
  2. Development of technology that accelerates crystallization of PLA: In pursuing the acceleration of crystallization to the maximum based on the interaction of PLA polymer and plant fiber, the Company succeeded in development of a revolutionary technology to accelerate the crystallization speed to 50 times that of plain PLA and 10 times the most recent improvements in technology. This high crystallization capability has not only significantly reduced the molding time but also enabled the realization of heat resistance of 150°C through the reinforcement effect from uniformly dispersed plant fiber and rigidity that is double the existing products.
This technology was developed in cooperation with Showa Marutsutsu Co., Ltd. (headquarters: Higashi-Osaka City, Osaka) and Showa Products Co., Ltd. (also based in Osaka) by combining Toray’s proprietary resin compounding technique with the newly developed technology that accelerates crystallization:
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PLA is a biomass polymer that is manufactured by polymerizing the lactic acid produced by fermenting starch contained in sweet corn and other plants. With its “carbon neutral” feature that helps conserve the depleting oil reserves and control amount of carbon dioxide emissions, PLA has great potential as a material with low environmental burden contributing to the prevention of global warming. While improvements in heat resistance and rigidity as well as in suitability for mass production have been the issues that held back the spread of PLA, the development of this technology is expected to significantly expand applications of PLA.

Under its corporate slogan “Innovation by Chemistry,” Toray has identified the four important segments of ‘information, telecommunications and electronics,’ ‘automobile and aircrafts,’ ‘life science’ and ‘environment, water and energy’ as important growth areas and aims to expand its advanced materials business with focus on these areas. In the environmental field, the Company is engaged in the development of products such as PLA that are based on non-petroleum raw materials. It also aims for business expansion of environment-friendly products such as Ecodear its universal brand for PLA products, by pursuing innovative research and development that employs its own advanced technologies.

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Senegal and Brazil sign biofuel agreement to make Africa a major supplier

Of all regions, the African continent has the largest long term sustainable biofuel production potential, with some estimates putting it at a maximum of 410 EJ per year by 2050. Consider that the planet in its entirety currently consumes around 400EJ of energy from all sources (coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear, renewables).

At the same time, high energy prices are disastrous for poor oil-importing African countries. The UN recently noted that some countries nowadays are forced to spend as much as 6 times as much on fuel as they do on health, twice the money on fuel as they do on poverty alleviation, and in still others, the foreign exchange drain from higher oil prices is five times the gain from recent debt relief. The threat of Peak Oil has the potential to ruin all development efforts in these countries. But biofuels may offer a way out.

One of the first African leaders to see both this potential catastrophe and its possible solution is Senegal's recently reelected president Abdoulaye Wade. Last year, this éminence grise of African politics announced the formation of a 'Green OPEC' aimed at making African countries less dependent on oil by replacing it with biofuels. This organisation, dubbed 'PANPP' ('Pays Africans Non-Producteurs de Pétrole'), unites 15 non-oil producing countries on the continent. The goal of the organisation is to stimulate the exchange of knowledge, skills and technologies for the development of a biofuels industry, as well as a mechanism to redistribute some of the oil wealth from other African countries to be invested in a fuel solidarity fund.

Stressting the urgency of a switch to biofuels Wade's administration meanwhile put its money where its mouth is, by launching a first biofuel production plan based on the cultivation of jatropha, of which 250 million seedlings were distributed amongst rural families. The project is part of an attempt to revive agriculture in the country, and to curb the massive flow of 'illegal' migrants from Senegal to Europe (earlier post).

In an perfect example of smart 'trilateral' South-South collaboration, Senegal also started implementing a larger bioenergy programme with direct albeit informal support of Brazil's president Lula, and carried out by entrepreneurs from India. Senegal wants to learn and offers land and labor; Brazil brings in scientific and technological know-how; and Indian business makes sure that enough capital is in place. This public-private partnership is hailed as a win-win situation for all partners involved (earlier post).

Broad initiative
Senegal and Brazil have now officially signed a biofuel cooperation agreement [*Portuguese] in Brasília, where President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and President Abdoulaye Wade consecrated their commitment to making Africa a major biofuel supplier.

During the signing of a series of accords, one of which was aimed specifically at strengthening Senegalese human resources in the bioenergy sector and at transferring technologies, the Brazilian leader stressed his country's willingness to share its world leading biodiesel and ethanol expertise with the countries of the 'Green OPEC': "Under the leadership of Senegal, we want to extend this initiative to other non-oil producing African countries." Lula stressed the initiative is part of a larger South-South strategy on biofuels that will eventually involve NEPAD.
His counterpart stated:
"Biofuels are going to provoke a revolution in Africa. The entire continent is set to become a major supplier of green fuels, because it has what is needed: abundant land, water, sunlight and creativity. Biofuels offer an extraordinary opportunity to generate employment and to make agriculture more sustainable. Therefor, we have decided to launch the production of biofuels not only in Senegal, but across Africa, by drawing on Brazilian knowledge, technology and expertise."
The Senegalese leader noted that his counterpart had explained to him the ideal model of Brazil's Pro-Biodiesel program, Lula's own project which differs considerably from the Pro-Alcool program that was created 30 years ago. Under this new model "the farmers remain owners of their land and work on their own soils, while at the same time producing feedstocks for larger investors with who they make win-win agreements within a clear legal framework". Brazil's "Social Fuel" policy is aimed at making this model work, so that it benefits small farmers:
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During a press conference after the meeting, Mr Wade added that his country would first focus on the production of biodiesel from oil-seed crops such as jatropha and ricin.

President Lula further elaborated on the need for South-South integration:
"It is much easier for a Brazilian businessman to go to Europe or to the United States to set up shop. He is not going to do business in Africa. The same is true for a Senegalese businessman. But we have to change this situation. We can only speak of genuine South-South integration when we establish a presence in a country of the South, each time we do so in the North."
A growing presence in Africa
Brazil is becoming very active on the African continent. Late last year, it established an Africa-cell of its leading agricultural research agency EMBRAPA in Accra, Ghana. From there, delegations have visited countries across the continent (including Mozambique, Angola and Morocco), to help assess the biofuel opportunity and to assist them with exploiting their untapped agricultural potential in a sustainable way. (See our article on "Brazil in Africa").

In another series of developments, Brazil is creating forms of trilateral 'South-North-South' cooperation with European countries who are willing to invest in Africa's bioenergy potential. An example is Brazil's agreement with Italy, or that with the UK and Sweden.

More information:
Agência Brasil: Brasil e Senegal assinam quatro acordos de cooperação - May 16, 2007.

Le Matin: Le Sénégal veut être une porte d'entrée des biocarburants - May 17, 2007.

Diário de Cuiabá: Brasil e Senagal assinam acordos de cooperação - May 16, 2007.

Lusa (Agência de Notícias de Portugal): Brasil assina acordo com Senegal na área de biocombustíveis - May 16, 2007.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Dedini achieves breakthrough: cellulosic ethanol from bagasse at $27cents per liter ($1/gallon)

At a seminar on ethanol technologies organised by São Paulo's Industry Federation (FIESP), Brazil's Dedini SA, the leading manufacturer of sugar and biofuel equipment, has announced [*Portuguese] it has come up with a way to produce cellulosic ethanol on an industrial scale from plant waste, a development that could revolutionize the industry by boosting the competitiveness and energy balance of biofuels. Dedini has commercial ties with all of Brazil's 357 sugar and ethanol mills and is the main supplier of co-generation plants, sugar refineries and ethanol distilleries.

Dedini's São Luiz Mill in São Paulo state began producing cellulose bioethanol from bagasse - the leftover cane stalk after the sucrose is pressed out - at about US$ 40 cents a liter in 2002. But production costs have now fallen with improvements in processing technologies to below €20/US$ 27 cents a liter (US$ 1.02 per gallon). "This means the fuel is cost-competitive with oil at US$42 a barrel," said Dedini Operations Vice President José Luiz Olivério at the seminar.

The technology is based on a combination of two processing steps that convert bagasse, the lignocellulose-rich byproduct from cane processing, into ethanol: (1) pretreatment of the biomass with organic solvents, and (2) dilute acid hydrolysis. The innovation consists of the pretreatment phase which allows the diluted acids to do their work much faster and more efficiently. The liquid hydrolyzates are then easily fermented and distilled into ethanol. Because of the speed of the process, the proprietary technique was dubbed 'Dedini Rapid Hydrolysis' (DHR) [*Portuguese, *.pdf] (see below).

Efficiency leaps
Brazil has the world's most advanced biofuels market, with 30 years of experience in national ethanol production. The state-of-the-art ethanol mills can produce the biofuel from cane sucrose at or below €13/US$18 cents a liter (US$0.68/gallon), experts say. This makes the fuel competitive when oil is at around US$35-40 per barrel.

During the production of sugar cane ethanol, a large stream of bagasse is released. Bagasse is a fibrous, cellulose rich biomass material that is most often burned in co-generation electric power plants on site to run operations at the mill. Excess is sold as green and renewable electricity to nearby cities and industries. To cope with the bagasse residue, many of Brazil's cane mills have even installed out-of-date, inefficient blast furnaces so they would not be left with excess biomass, for which they would otherwise have to pay for disposal. But Dedini's breakthrough may now change all this.

Analysts have predicted that the efficiency and productivity of Brazil's ethanol sector may double within two decades (previous post). This would be a repeat of the achievements made over the past 25 years, when Brazilian producers achieved a 75% cost reduction in the production of the biofuel (earlier post). Sugar cane based ethanol is by far the most efficient biofuel available. One hectare of cane now yields an average of around 6000 liters of ethanol, but if bagasse were to be converted efficiently this could increase to 12,000 liters. Likewise, the average energy balance of cane ethanol currently stands at around 8 to 1 (compared to corn's 1.5 to 1) and would reach well into the ten-point mark with the advent of cellulosic ethanol. This would put the energy balance of this type of biofuel on a par with that of petroleum production.

Commenting on the efficiency and productivity leap, Oliverio said "this will be able to boost a mill's ethanol output by 30 percent without planting one more cane stalk". In short, a hectare of sugar cane will deliver a third more ethanol and now yield up to 9000 liters, three to four times more than corn. In other words: with the technique, less land is needed to obtain a similar amount of liquid biofuel.

The technology: rapid acid hydrolysis
Cellulosic ethanol production comes under three broad conversion pathways: a thermochemical route (gasification, pyrolysis) , a biochemical route and a purely chemical conversion known as dilute acid hydrolysis. The biochemical pathway makes use of special enzymes to break down the cellulose to release its sugars, whereas the chemical pathway relies on an hydrolyzing lignocellulosic biomass by means of acids. The liquid hydrolyzates are then fermented into ethanol. Dedini's breakthrough is based on this latter technique:
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The chemical acid wash (acid hydrolysis) of the biomass breaks up the protective lignin fibers in the cane stalk and allows a type of sugar cell to be washed out. "This type of acid method typically inhibits fermentation of the syrup that comes from the sugars in the bagasse, so mills will have to figure out how to overcome this," said Professor Carlos Rossell at the State University of Campinas, or UNICAMP. But Olivério says Dedini has overcome the problem as the company's system uses a very diluted acid to free the sugars in the cane. The trick is to use high dilution levels on a pretreated slurry of dissolved lignocellulose.

The process was dubbed 'DHR' - 'Dedini Hidrólise Rápida' - and was developed in collaboration with the Centro de Tecnologia Copersucar (CTC) and with the Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo (Fapesp). Carlos Rossel was the lead researcher who achieved the breakthrough.

The DHR technology relies on a combination of two steps: the acid hydrolysis and a pretreatment with organic solvents. The technique was developed specifically for the conversion of bagasse. By pretreating the biomass with organic solvents, the lignocellulose is decomposed, which allows for a much faster attack of the acids. The hydrolyzed fraction that is then to be turned into ethanol is easily fermentable because it consists of hexoses - a monosaccharide consisting of 6 carbon atoms.

Dedini's first large scale demonstration facility produced 5000 liters per day. The objective is now to optimize the technique by means of process integration, automatisation and by increasing the stability and safety of the sensitive conversion process. Olivério thinks it must be possible to go beyond the current 30% increase in sugar cane ethanol production per hectare, and achieve a doubling within a few years.

Enzyme research continues
Meawhile, many researchers in the area of cellulose technology believe enzymes, or natural proteins that accelerate the breakdown of the lignin fibers, will be used in future cellulose ethanol production too.

But Rossell and Professor Elba Bom at Rio de Janeiro's UFRJ University pointed at to two challenges: reducing the exorbitantly high cost of industrial production of enzymes and shortening the time required for the enzymes to act on the lignin.

Bom said her research team has been developing methods of leaving shredded bagasse outside in something like a large compost heap to allow naturally occurring enzymes to go to work in a pretreatment stage to loosen the lignin's hold on the sugar, but this requires as much as a week. "We've already identified the best brews of enzymes, the challenge is bringing down production costs which are currently two to three times the cost of conventional ethanol," Bom said. "We're shooting for 1.5 times the cost of standard ethanol."

More information:
FIESP: Etanol brasileiro: novas tecnologias, perspectivas e competitividade - May 15, 2007.

Dedini: Dedini Hidrólise Rápida [*Portuguese/*.pdf], overview of the process.

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Brazil demonstrating that reducing tropical deforestation is possible while expanding biofuels

Brazil is not only a success story when it comes to biofuels, it is also an example of how a smart series of policies and economic incentives can reduce tropical deforestation, while at the same time increasing biofuel production. Despite what some campaigners claim, Brazil's energy crops do not grow in tropical rainforest zones, and deforestation is not automatically fuelled by the expansion of these crops. Land-use change and deforestation resulting from agricultural production for food is not simply causally related to land-use changes from expanded energy cropping. For this reason, Brazil has been able to steadily increase its biofuels output, while at the same cutting deforestation rates by half, in less than 5 years. A major achievement of the left-wing government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva that has been noted by climate scientists and policy makers alike.

Tropical deforestation is the source of nearly a fifth of annual, human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases to the atmosphere. Recent studies by Woods Hole Research Center scientists demonstrate that during years of severe drought, tropical rainforest fires can double emissions from tropical forests. Now, an international team of forest and climate researchers has found that halving deforestation rates by mid-century would account for 12 percent of total emissions reductions needed to keep concentrations of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere at safe levels - and they take Brazil's efforts as an example of the way forward. The scientists' work [*abstract] is profiled in a recent issue of Science.

"Compensated reduction"
A policy mechanism is needed that rewards those tropical nations that succeed in lowering their emissions of heat-trapping gases from deforestation and forest degradation. This is a particularly urgent need since most of these emissions are associated with only modest economic gains, but provoke high losses of biodiversity. Such a policy mechanism is now under discussion in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The "Compensated Reduction" (CR) (earlier post) of greenhouse gas emissions from tropical forests would provide payments to those tropical nations that succeed in lowering their emissions from deforestation and tropical degradation, beginning during the second compensation period of the UNFCCC (beginning 2013). This proposal has now been endorsed by the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, which currently represents 29 tropical countries who support the CR proposal, and which formally advanced the CR proposal during the Conference of the Parties in Montreal, 2005, and will be voted on by the UNFCCC delegation in Bali Conference of the Parties in December.

Brazil's example
"More than any other country, Brazil has demonstrated that it is feasible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from tropical deforestation", says co-author Daniel Nepstad, Senior Scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center. He, along with colleague Marina Campos, showed that since the beginning of 2004, Brazil has created more than 20 million hectares of parks, extractive reserve, and national forests in the Amazon region, and many of these protected areas are located in the agricultural frontier. These protected areas, if fully enforced, will prevent one billion tons of carbon from being transferred to the atmosphere through deforestation by the year 2015. Brazil's deforestation rates have been cut nearly in half in recent years through a combination of government intervention and economic trends:
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"We are encouraging the Brazilian government to fully endorse the Compensated Reduction proposal", states Paulo Moutinho, Scientist and Coordinator of the Climate Change Program of the Amazon Institute for Environmental Research (IPAM), a non-governmental research institute in Brazil. CR would help Brazil offset the costs of slowing deforestation rates. In Brazil, the cost of reducing deforestation emissions by half will be less than $5 per ton of carbon dioxide, as estimated in an unpublished study of IPAM and the Woods Hole Research Center.

"Slowing tropical deforestation won't, by itself, solve the climate problem," said Dr. Peter Frumhoff, co-author and organizer of the study and Director of Science and Policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "But for many developing countries, it is their largest source of emissions. Climate policymakers have a historic opportunity to help developing countries find economically viable alternatives to deforestation and participate in the global effort to address climate change."

Biofuels expansion
The Brazilian government has been trying to decouple the problem of deforestation and biofuel production, and stresses that increased use of tropical biofuels over fossil fuels offers an equally potent strategy to mitigate climate change. Energy crops grown in Brazil for liquid fuels like ethanol (sugar cane and cassava), biodiesel (jatropha, palm oil and castor beans), and biomass (eucalyptus), do not thrive in former rainforest zones. Land-use changes resulting from agricultural production for food and agricultural production for energy are different and not simply causally related. Pressures on land from the biofuels sector are not straightforwardly translated into pressures on land for food cropping, because both systems require different climates, growing conditions and soils. Some organisations however have launched an uninformed campaign against biofuels, by coupling both forms of land-use change and claiming that biofuel production fuels deforestation.

Brazil's biofuels efforts explicitly take sustainability into account. Strict zoning rules and land use management policies are under development, organic energy farming is becoming more common, and policies aimed at strengthening the social sustainability of biofuels have been implemented. Moreover, the country has over 100 million hectares of degraded pasture-land that could be recovered and restored by planting biofuel crops. In this context, the Brazilian government has launched a financing mechanism making it easier for ranchers and land-owners to convert their pastures into land suitable for energy plantations.

More information:

Eurekalert: Brazil demonstrating that reducing tropical deforestation is key win-win global warming solution - May 15, 2007.

Raymond E. Gullison, Peter C. Frumhoff, Josep G. Canadell, Christopher B. Field, Daniel C. Nepstad, Katharine Hayhoe, Roni Avissar, Lisa M. Curran, Pierre Friedlingstein, Chris D. Jones, Carlos Nobre, "Tropical Forests and Climate Policy" [*abstract], Science, May 10, 2007, DOI: 10.1126/science.1136163

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EU launches platform to promote bioenergy in semi-arid Africa

The EU has launched an ambitious project to study and implement bioenergy projects in the semi-arid and arid regions of Africa, aimed at bringing modern biofuels to local populations, as well as exporting green fuels to world markets. Dubbed 'COMPETE' (Competence Platform on Energy Crop and Agroforestry Systems for Arid and Semi-arid Ecosystems - Africa), the platform's aim is to stimulate the creation of a forum for policy dialogue and capacity building in the major multi- and bi-lateral funding organisations and key stakeholders throughout the bioenergy provision and supply chains. COMPETE is formed by a consortium of 44 partners from 5 continents, coordinated by WIP-Renewable Energies, Germany, and runs from January 2007 to December 2009, co-funded by the European Commission's 6th Framework Programme.

In order to ensure the sustainable production of biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel for transport, solid biomass for electricity and heating, and gaseous fuels for transport, electricity and household energy, COMPETE brings together world-leading scientists, researchers, funders and practitioners from different fields and across the world to create a platform for knowledge exchange, policy and methodology development. It will use this concentrated expertise to provide strategic and practical guidance and tools on the provision of modern bioenergy for the sustainable and optimal usage of these special ecosystems.

The main objective of COMPETE is to identify pathways for the provision of bioenergy, which will:
  • improve the quality of life for the inhabitants e.g. poverty alleviation, value added activities, alternative means of income generation and providing options to reduce vulnerability whilst, in parallel;
  • aid the preservation of the critical functions of arid and semi-arid regions in Africa as intact ecosystems e.g. maintaining biodiversity and providing ecosystem services, and;
  • enhance the equitable exchange of knowledge between EU and developing countries in this critical area of activity
A number of sub-objectives which represent the highly cross-sectoral nature of bioenergy provision and the breadth and depth of the scientific and technological objectives that COMPETE will integrate into providing useful decision making and implementation tools.

The long-term provision of secure supplies of bioenergy will require the evaluation of a large range of inter-related factors within a comprehensive analytical framework and associated decision making tools leading to a holistic policy development process.

Bioenergy deals with many interrelated factors, such as the optimal and socially acceptable allocation of land between food, infrastructure, bioenergy and other uses; soil degradation; the impacts of, and on, climate change; water use; and, the potential for political conflict. These factors are closely linked to the problems that many regions in Africa are confronted with. A multi-sectoral cross-disciplinary approach is therefor urgently needed to cope with these problems and the likely demands generated by high oil prices.

Science, technology, trade, cooperation
The complexity of bioenergy makes that the project work of the COMPETE competence network is divided into seven major co-ordination activities (work-packages, WP) comprising a specified number of tasks (diagram, click to enlarge). These co-ordination activities have been identified in a way to ensure that all important aspects connected to an improved and sustainable management of natural resources in arid and semi-arid regions of developing countries are addressed. An overview of these work-packages:
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Current Land Use
This work package will synthesise information from a range of high quality sources that have categorised and evaluated land use patterns in Africa with a view to (a) identifying land suitable for biomass production for energy, (b) suitable for conversion from other uses, and; (c) filtering out land that is not available or not suitable for inclusion in future bioenergy land use scenarios.

Traditional uses of biomass for energy, food and medicines (plant and animal-derived) have significant impacts on land and water use and availability which need to be understood, quantified and integrated into future land-use management scenarios. Almost all communities in the rural areas of Africa are involved in this type of traditional collection and use of biomass and modern bioenergy systems must provide those affected with alternative sources of income or resources to cover these needs. Therefore, this work package will include an evaluation of the impacts of mitigating these traditional needs in the light of the land use estimations discussed above.

Information on the land will include: (a) specific climatic, terrain, soil and ecological opportunities and constraints, (b) legal and social status, and (c) economic framework conditions as related to proximity and access to water resources, transportation infrastructure, population nodes, potential markets etc. The sustainability of the resource management practices of indigenous people will be a key focus.

Improved Land Use
The overall objective of this work package is to provide an overview of experiences and concepts for sustainable production (and use) of biomass for energy. This includes improvements in conventional agricultural production, since productivity improvement is vital for making land available for new crops without increasing pressure on existing land resources. Following sub-objectives are identified:
  1. To provide an overview of known agricultural practices (arable land, cattle farming/use of pasture land and agro-forestry) that lead to improvements in (sustainable) yields compared to common practice in varying contexts in Southern Africa.
  2. To provide an overview of experience with different existing biomass production systems for energy markets and use and their environmental and socio-economic impacts. This includes bio-ethanol production from e.g. sugar cane, biodiesel production from oil crops and production of heat and power from woody biomass.
  3. To provide an overview of promising new (or improved) biomass production and utilisation schemes including their expected environmental and socio-economic impacts.
  4. To provide insights in possible introduction schemes for sustainable biomass production, integrated in current agricultural practices (including pasture lands) and provide estimates for the potential contributions to sustainable energy supply, income and employment generation as well as ecological impacts (and benefits) for the South African region.
This work package is closely interlinked with work package 1 (current land use patterns) and work package 3 (sustainability analysis of alternative land-use) and results are to be produced in close collaboration.

Furthermore, three working groups are defined dealing specifically with 1. Energy crops for ethanol production, 2. Energy crops for biodiesel production and 3. Biomass production and supply for production of electricity and heat.

An essential prerequisite for the implementation of alternative energy crop and agroforestry schemes is to ensure their ecological, economic and social sustainability. Practical mechanisms for defining, monitoring and rewarding good sustainability practice are beginning to emerge both locally and globally. Ensuring the ‘renewable’ status of bioenergy will mean tailoring these mechanisms to each bioenergy production system, irrespective of location, scale or technology.

Work package 3 will coordinate activities on the sustainability analysis of alternative land use. It will integrate the most recent understanding of the social and environmental management sciences to ensure sustainable use of resources while providing optimum economic and community benefits.

International Cooperation

South-South Cooperation
The implementation of alternative energy crops and agro forestry schemes has recently gained large interest worldwide, especially in developing countries in Asia and Latin America.
The objective of this work package is to link the project activities in Africa with on-going successful research and demonstration efforts in the field of energy crops and agroforestry systems in Latin America and Asia. This will be achieved by exchanging information, especially learning from initiatives that are directly related to the themes under the COMPETE project. Specific objectives include:
  • To document and exchange information on a broad range of issues covering improved agriculture and sustainable agro-forestry systems that have been successfully demonstrated / implemented in Asia and Latin America.
  • To identify best practices that have the potential for application in Africa and carry out impact assessment of the selected schemes / approaches
  • To prepare a draft strategy document for implementation of the best practices in Africa

This work package also aims to provide effective links with Work Packages (WP) 1, 2, 5, 6 and 7.

North-South Cooperation
Furthermore WP4 will be concerned with the transfer of knowledge and technical know-how between developed and developing countries as well as the promotion of joint ventures for common activities in the field of new energy crop and agroforestry systems.


The overall objectives of this Work Package are to:
  • Identify the existing financing mechanisms that are currently used for energy crop and agroforestry activities with emphasis on carbon financing, multilateral and bilateral donors, and trading and commercial options (a usable inventory of current projects should be made available from Work Packages 1 and 2.)
  • Provide an overview of the opportunities that exist for financing new and additional energy crop and agroforestry activities in arid and semi-arid Africa (emphasis on financing for sustainable activities as identified in WP3)
  • Identify the main barriers associated with each financing mechanism (some general barriers to implementation should be identified in WP4)
  • Develop a strategy to improve financing for energy crops and agroforestry activities.
  • To identify opportunities and barriers for linking bio-energy production in Africa to international (export) markets, both within the region as to the global market.

Policy Development

The objective of this work package is to coordinate policy research activities in African countries aimed at facilitating the efficient implementation of improved energy crop and agroforestry systems in order to enhance economic productivity and sustain rural and peri-urban livelihoods. It is also aimed at avoiding adverse environmental and social degradation that could arise from faulty policy development and implementation.

Policy initiatives will be evaluated and developed in close cooperation with African multinational organisations (SADC, UEMOA, NEPAD) and national Governments. By ensuring that this work package is Africa-led, local site, climate, soil and cultural aspects will be inherent to policy development. This will also help to inform EU developmental policy about the objectives on ‘Africa’ and ‘Bioenergy’ specific issues in this critical development sector.

Furthermore, the nexus of these policy research activities with agricultural policies will be addressed through involvement of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

The consortium
The COMPETE consortium includes universities, institutes and associations from all continents. African partners are from Botswana, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Mali, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zambia. European partners are from Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Norway, The Netherlands, Sweden, and United Kingdom. Asian partners are from China, India, and Thailand. Latin American partners are from Brazil and Mexico. International partners are the AFDB, CI, and FAO. A detailed list with members can be found here [*.pdf].

So far, COMPETE has published a small number of interesting texts, including a general "Biofuel SWOT-Analysis", a "Biofuel Technology Handbook", and a "Testing framework for sustainable biomass".

Biopact is currently in the process of applying for Associate Membership of COMPETE.

More information:
Competence Platform on Energy Crop and Agroforestry Systems for Arid and Semi-arid Ecosystems- Africa, homepage.

The European Commission's Sixth Framework Programme.

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Brazil's Lula to take biofuels to the G8 as a geopolitical weapon

Agência Brasil reports [*Portuguese] that the G8 Summit which unites the world's seven most industrialised and 'developed' countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States) along with Russia has reserved a place for the Brazilian government to present its plans for the development of a global ethanol and biodiesel industry aimed at fighting climate change. The summit takes place in June of this year and is hosted by Germany, which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, and which has put global warming and energy security at the top of the agenda.

Combative, president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva told reporters at the Palácio do Planalto that biofuels have become a geopolitical weapon for the Global South:
"At this forum, the G8 will discuss climate change. We are going urge delegates to help develop ethanol and biodiesel on a planetary scale. We will plant sunflower, jatropha, and a range of other crops across the globe, that will sequester carbon dioxide [in the form of low carbon fuels]. We will do so to capture the money that was promised to poor countries but that was never delivered."
Brazil's main contribution to climate change comes from deforestation, but in the industrialised world greenhouse gas emissions come from the massive use of fossil fuels - coal, natural gas and oil - in transport and industry. Bioenergy and biofuels are carbon neutral and non-polluting. Lula said that for this reason global energy politics cannot remain static; switching fuels is part of the future:
"We do not want people abandon the use of oil. But what we want to say is the following: do we want to clean up the planet? Do want to diminish warming of the planet? Do we want to improve air quality? Then use renewable fuels - Brazil will be your partner."
The president said he will act as a "propaganda boy" for biofuels amongst the big boys from the countries who pollute many times more than Brazil, and who have been polluting for more than 200 years:
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"I am going to the G8, and from the first second they start to talk about climate change, I will be sitting there with my portfolio of biofuels, and I will say: here they are, you want to tackle global warming? Here are castor seeds, jatropha nuts, soybeans, cotton seed, oil palm fruits. Global energy politics will not lack the motivation to utilise these resources."
Sugar cane and labor conditions
Asked about the actions the government will take to prevent the exploitation of slave labor on sugar cane plantations, the President said there will be two steps taken towards that aim. The first one is to consolidate and promote ethanol's position - at least conceptually - as a viable and exceptional fuel source in the global energy matrix, that can be produced by countries in the South.

"In a second step, the question of the humanisation of the sugar cane sector in this country will be tackled, by opening a dialogue between the private companies and the workers, in order to improve labor conditions so that they can become professional citizens who can make the most of their lives."

President Lula did not exclude the possibility of sending a draft law to Congress aimed at rooting out manual slave labor once and for all. [Note: compared to previous governments, the current Brazilian executive has already made considerable progress on this front, by legislating working hours and by implementing a registration program that forces all companies to identify its workers, so the government knows who, when and where anyone is working.] "If it takes a law, we will make one ourselves, in collaboration with the labor union movement", the president concluded.

Image: Brazil's Lula harvesting castor beans for biodiesel.

More information:
Agência Brasil: Brasil vai apresentar em reunião do G 8 formas de incentivar biodiesel e etanol - May 15, 2007.

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National African Farmers' Union hails South Africa's biofuel plan as victory for the poor

The government of South Africa is speeding up its plans to kickstart a biofuels industry that is set to benefit small farmers across the country. Once home to millions of displaced black South Africans, the former socalled 'Homelands' are expected to become the heart of the country's biofuels production.

Minister of Agriculture and Land Affairs Lulama Xingwana said the presidential commercial agricultural working group meeting held at Tuynhuys in Cape Town had mapped out about 3 million hectares of land on which crops would be grown for the production of biofuels.

The meeting, which was attended by President Thabo Mbeki, several ministers and representatives from agricultural organisations, had developed a biofuels strategy that aimed to produce 1 billion litres of biofuel a year (4.5 percent of the country's fuel consumption).

Attending the discussions, National African Farmers' Union (NAFU) president Motsepe Matlala, whose organisation represents over 45,000 small farmers across the country, heralded the meeting as a victory for the poor. Many small producers would benefit the most because of the low start-up costs involved. He said discussions had also brought land ownership for the poor one step closer to becoming a reality:
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Matlala was referring to the development of a mechanism that would see existing government finance programmes brought under one roof.

This, Xingwana said, would create "one-stop shopping" for farmers who were struggling to get started. Matlala said it would also speed up the process of getting finance and support from the government, which was critical for new farmers battling to find their feet.

Also present at the meeting was AgriSA president Lourie Bosman, whose organisation represents 70,000 small and large scale commercial farmers. He welcomed the move but said final planning had to be done quickly. "We need to be ready by July, otherwise farmers will lose out on another growing season."

He said while some farmers were already growing crops such as maize, sugarcane, sugar beet, soya and sunflowers for biofuel production, it was still largely for their own domestic use. Bosman said the addition of 3-million hectares of land for the purpose of growing biofuel crops would turn it into a recognised industry.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Report: clean coal and CCS 'feasible' in the UK - towards carbon negative energy?

New technology means coal can be both a clean and secure source of energy, according to a UK think-tank report. High in carbon emissions - a key factor causing climate change - coal has typically been seen as a dirty fuel. But the environmental damage can be reduced, says the report, and unlike wind and solar power it can also be stored and provided on demand.

CCS progress opens carbon negative energy future

More importantly to us, the technologies for clean coal can be applied to biomass, resulting in so-called 'Bio-Energy with Carbon Storage' (BECS) systems. BECS is the only radical carbon negative energy concept that can provide a reliable supply of power and take our historic carbon emissions out of the atmosphere. As biomass grows, it becomes a carbon-neutral biofuel. But when the fuel is burned and its carbon emissions then captured and stored, the system's greenhouse gas balance becomes negative. All other energy systems, including renewables like solar and wind power are carbon positive and in the case of the latter must be backed up by other baseload sources.

Scientists have pointed out that if BECS - now recognized by the IPCC as an important technology to fight climate change - were to be implemented on a large scale (taking on aspects of a 'geo-engineering' effort by planting large energy forests across the globe), it can take us back to pre-industrial CO2 levels in a few decades time. The concept was designed as an answer to socalled 'abrupt climate change' scenarios. Meanwhile many scientists think we are already facing such a scenario.

We refer to the report on clean coal because it indicates carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies are becoming technically and commercially feasible in the UK. Since biomass can be co-fired easily with coal, BECS may become a reality faster than expected. In fact, in the Netherlands, a first power plant co-firing coal and biomass, and storing the CO2 in depleted gas fields is already under construction. This will effectively become the first low carbon coal plant, and, depending on the amount of biomass that is co-combusted, may even become carbon negative (previous post). On a more general level, CCS still poses some risks (like CO2 leakage), which is why testing such technologies from the start with biomass is the safest way forward.

The reported titled Clean Coal: A Clean, Secure and Affordable Alternative [*.pdf] was produced by the Center for Policy Studies and comes in advance of the UK energy white paper, expected in May:
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Advantages of coal and biomass
The analysis first indicates that in the UK, more energy generation is urgently needed. The country has an installed electricity capacity of 77 gigawatts (GW) but it is expected that by 2016, it will face a shortfall of 32 GW as older coal, nuclear and oil plants go offline, while demand keeps increasing.

The author, Tony Lodge, argues that coal has many advantages over intermittent renewables like solar or wind power. The argumentation for coal is equally valid for biomass:
Coal has a number of advantages for electricity production. The raw material is in plentiful supply. It can be (and is) stockpiled at power stations and, in generating terms, it is a fairly flexible fuel, providing baseload but also some capability of being turned up and down to meet peaks in demand.
Like coal, biomass can also be transported safely and efficiently, and traded. Research by the IEA Bioenergy Task 40 has indicated that intercontinental trade and transport of biomass (densified into a liquid fuel or as pellets), that is, shipping it in tankers over long distances, is feasible and only slightly reduces the greenhouse gas balance of the fuel upon arrival in the importing port.

'Clean coal' is a generic term for a range of technologies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They include flue gas desulphurisation, supercritical coal-firing and underground coal gasification, all discussed in the report. However, carbon capture and storage (CCS) is by far the most important of the new concepts and techniques, because they reduce carbon dioxide emissions radically.

CCS potential in the UK
The idea of carbon sequestration is simple and powerful: segregate the CO2 from the fossil fuel combustion products, and then deposit it in a place where it will remain.

The emission of CO2 from such a plant could be reduced to virtually zero [and to a negative number] if the clean coal [biomass] plant was designed to sequester carbon, the CO2 could be disposed of in, for example, the emptying oil fields of the North Sea which consequently can extend the lives of oil fields through pressure being applied on old and difficult to extract reserves, thereby prolonging production.

CCS is a three step process, which includes capturing the CO2 from power plants, transporting it, usually via pipelines, and finally storing it. The British Minister for Science told the House of Commons on 27 February 2007:
CCS could help reduce emissions from the new coal-fired power stations that are planned over the next decades, especially in India and China, that is why the proposal is so attractive... We have strongly encouraged the market to proceed with bringing the technology forward, and UK industry is well placed to undertake future CCS projects.
The British Geological Survey estimates that potential carbon dioxide storage capacity in the UK sector of the North Sea is 755 gigatonnes, which is a considerable amount, given that worldwide CO2 output is 8 gigatonnes annually. This means that almost a century’s worth of the CO2 produced in the world could theoretically at least, be stored in the North Sea alone.

CCS Costs
The report sketches an overview of the costs of CCS, which are crucial to its long term viability. Snow relies on an analysis by PÖYRY Energy Consulting for the Department of Trade and Industry (Analysis of Carbon Capture and Storage Cost-Supply Curves for the UK [*.pdf]). It concluded that CCS costs in a coal-fired plant would be just above £20/tonne CO2 while for a gas fired plant, it is £30/tonne CO2. A key reason for this difference is that the volume of CO2 emitted from a coalfired plant is far greater than that from a gas fired plant, so the volume abated will also be far higher, therefore reducing the cost of abatement.
  • The PÖYRY report also sets out other ways the costs of CCS can fall:
  • Using CO2 for Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR can generate revenue which offsets the other costs of CCS (before any taxation issues are considered).
  • The cost of storing CO2 in aquifers is close to £1/tonne.
  • The cost of storing CO2 in oil and gas fields plant ranges from £1/tonne to £20/ tonne. The low unit costs of using aquifers is due to them being in shallow water, minimising the platform costs, being in shallow rock formations thereby minimising drilling costs and their large reservoir nature, reducing the unit cost of storage.
  • Overall, the PÖYRY report states that there is clear potential for abatement of around prices below £30/tonne.
Current CCS projects in the UK
Across the world, CCS trials and concrete projects are underway (in France, the Netherlands, Germany and Australia). In the UK too, some projects are worth noting:

Centrica Teesside 800 MW IGCC
Centrica, owner of British Gas, and Progressive Energy Ltd announced in November 2006 plans to build an £1bn 800MW IGCC (Integrated Gas Combined Cycle) in Teesside, North East England. The plant would be equipped with carbon capture and storage.

Importantly, this plant will be located on the coast, therefore in close proximity to disused wells for CCS and therefore requiring less transportation infrastructure and build. Centrica stated that the station would be fuelled by coal from the UK and would generate enough electricity for one million homes. Provided the company gets Government approval and planning permission, construction would start in 2009, enabling the station to open in 2012 or 2013.

Scottish and Southern Energy Ferrybridge (Yorkshire) 500MW Supercritical Plant and CCS

Scottish and Southern Energy have teamed up with Doosan Babcock Energy, UK Coal and Siemens to look into the prospect of building a £350m 500MW clean coal plant at Ferrybridge power station with a supercritical plant and carbon capture and storage. This technology at Ferrybridge Power Station, in Yorkshire, would save around 500,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, compared with the current plant. The plant would receive coal from the neighbouring Kellingley Colliery.

Powergen Kingsnorth (Kent) New power station featuring two 800MW Supercritical plants with potential CCS

Powergen, owned by E.ON of Germany, is planning to invest £1 billion in two supercritical plants expected at 800MW each. They will be located at the same site. This plant, according to E.ON will use a mix of British and imported coal. The power stations will be suitable for carbon capture and storage. If approved these would be the UK’s first supercritical coal-fired units, and they would produce enough electricity to supply around 1.5 million homes. On December 11th 2006 E.ON submitted a Section 36 planning application to the Government.

Powergen Lincolnshire 450MW CCS
Powergen has also announced a feasibility study into building a clean coal power station at Killingholme on the Lincolnshire coast. This station will act as a test facility for carbon capture and storage.

Political support
According to the report, developing clean coal in the UK would not only be good for the domestic market. It would also be an effective way of setting an example for developing economies, including China and India, so they could "take advantage of their own coal reserves" in an environmentally acceptable way.

But in order to make best use of coal, there needs to be clear political support to encourage investors and systematic planning rules for coal sites, said the think-tank.

The government should also provide the same degree of subsidy as it does for renewable energy, it adds. It argued that ultimately, if coal were developed using new technologies, it could mean a more reliable energy source and cheaper electricity for the consumer. "Such a combination ought to be attractive to all policy-makers".

Disadvantages of wind and solar
Solar energy is quickly dismissed as a feasible option for large scale energy production in the UK, because it is far too costly, intermittent and not very efficient there. Wind receives large investments, but the think tank asks whether these funds wouldn't be better invested in clean coal. It does so because wind power has several major disadvantages.

Lodge quotes Michael Laughton, Professor of Electrical Engineering at Queen Mary University of London who has highlighted three key points on wind energy:
  • With or without wind generation in the electricity system, security of power supply is governed by the probability of the available plant being able to meet power demand at all times, especially at or near peak periods.
  • Wind generation on its own cannot provide a reliable supply of power. It must be backed up by other baseload sources.
  • By way of illustration if 25 GW of wind capacity were to be added to the electricity supply system only 5 GW of conventional plant capacity could be retired. This is because of existing security of supply standards (loss of load probability or LOLP) where in general the capacity credit is of the order of the square root of the GW of wind installed. With a 30% annual load factor this 25 GW of wind capacity would generate annually the same energy on average as 5 GW.

Wind power is also relatively expensive, according to Lodge, who provides the following table below (click to enlarge):


The think tank says barriers to clean coal technology being embraced and pursued are not technical. The technology exists and has existed for some time. If the British overnment wishes to genuinely embrace a competitive, market-orientated energy policy which reduces CO2 and maintains crucial baseload energy provision then it must support clean coal, alongside new nuclear stations.

Note that the Biopact neither backs clean coal as such, let alone nuclear power. We do think though, that progress in reliable carbon capture and storage technologies offers a unique opportunity to build genuinely carbon negative energy systems based on biomass. These systems can mitigate climate change like no other technology. Biomass can be grown sustainably in very large quantities, most notably in the subtropics, from where it can be exported efficiently to BECS-plants in the industrialised world. Such a 'pact' would provide opportunities for farmers in the South, and a radical way to reduce the past emissions from the highly developed countries.

More information:
DTI: Analysis of Carbon Capture and Storage Cost-Supply Curves for the UK [*.pdf] - Pöyry for the UK government's Department of Trade and Industry, January 2007.

Center for Policy Studies: Clean Coal: A Clean, Secure and Affordable Alternative [*.pdf], May, 2007.

Biopact: Pre-combustion CO2 capture from biogas - the way forward?, March 31, 2007.

Biopact: Abrupt Climate Change and geo-engineering the planet with carbon-negative bioenergy - December 21, 2006.

Biopact: UN expert group demands carbon capture - report, March 05, 2007.

Euractiv: 'Carbon-capture trials safest way forward' - April 3.

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Researchers attach genes to minichromosomes in maize - may yield drought and disease resistant crops, better biofuels

A team of scientists at the University of Missouri-Columbia has discovered a way to create engineered minichromosomes in maize and attach genes to those minichromosomes. This discovery opens new possibilities for the development of crops that are multiply resistant to viruses, insects, fungi, bacteria and herbicides, for the development of proteins and metabolites that can be used to treat human illnesses, and for third generation biofuels (made from energy crops engineered in such a way that their properties are matched to the specificities of a given bioconversion process). The technique used to create engineered minichromosomes should be transferable to other plant species.

In a paper published in the early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Weichang Yu, Fangpu Han, Zhi Gao, Juan M. Vega and James A. Birchler built on a previous MU discovery about the creation of minichromosomes to demonstrate that genes could be stacked on the minichromosomes.
“This has been sought for a long time in the plant world, and it should open many new avenues. If we can do this in plants, many advances could be done in agriculture that would not otherwise be possible, from improved crops to inexpensive pharmaceutical production to other applications in biotechnology.” - James A. Birchler, professor of biological sciences in the MU College of Arts and Science.
A minichromosome is an extremely small version of a chromosome, the threadlike linear strand of DNA and associated proteins that carry genes and functions in the transmission of hereditary information. Whereas a chromosome is made of both centromeres and telomeres with much intervening DNA, a minichromosome contains only centromeres and telomeres, the end section of a chromosome, with little else. However, minichromosomes have the ability to accept the addition of new genes in subsequent experiments.

Birchler said there have been unsuccessful efforts to create artificial chromosomes in plants but this is the first time engineered minichromosomes have been made:
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Minichromosomes are able to function in many of the same ways as chromosomes but allow for genes to be stacked on them. Although other forms of genetic modification in plants are currently utilized, the new minichromosomes are particularly useful because they allow scientists to add numerous genes onto one minichromosome and manipulate those genes easily because they are all in one place, Birchler said. Genetic modification with traditional methods is more complicated because scientists have little control over where the genes are located in the chromosomes and cannot stack multiple genes on a separate chromosome independent of the others.

Resilient crops
By stacking genes on minichromosomes, scientists could create crops that have multiple beneficial traits, such as resistance to drought, certain viruses and insects, or other stresses. In addition, minichromosomes could be used for the inexpensive production of multiple foreign proteins and metabolites useful for medical purposes. Because of their protein-rich composition, a part of the maize kernels (called an endosperm) can be used to grow animal proteins and human antibodies that treat diseases and disease symptoms. Minichromosomes could enable new and better production of these foreign proteins and antibodies. In addition, scientists also may be able to use them to develop plants better suited for biofuel production.

“The technique used to create our engineered minichromosomes should be transferable to other plant species,” Birchler said.

He said he hopes that he and other scientists can use the technique to create minichromosomes in other plant varieties and produce more resistant plant strains, develop more medically useful proteins and metabolites, and study how chromosomes function.

More information:
Weichang Yu, Fangpu Han, Zhi Gao, Juan M. Vega *, and James A. Birchler, "Construction and behavior of engineered minichromosomes in maize" [*abstract], Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. May 14, 2007, 10.1073/pnas.0700932104

Eurekalert: Researchers attach genes to minichromosomes in maize - May 14, 2007.

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Offenburg students test world's first ethanol powered fuel cell vehicle

Finding the most efficient and climate-friendly propulsion technology for vehicles is not easy. The calculus requires a full life cycle assessment that looks at the 'well-to-tank' and 'tank-to-wheel' efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions for different fuels or energy carriers (hydrogen, electricity, biofuels, fossil fuels, synthetic fuels, biogas, natural gas...) and propulsion concepts (electric motors powered by fuel cells, direct battery-electric motors, internal combustion engines either using gaseous or liquid fuels.)

Many experts would agree that, as such, (solid) biofuels are most efficient when burned or gasified in power plants for electricity generation, and not in their liquid form as transport fuels. The electricity from this biomass could then possibly be used to power electric vehicles. Hydrogen for its part is often associated with highly efficient fuel cells (even though the gas can be burned in ICE's). On the other hand, the clean gas is merely an energy carrier and so a primary energy source must be used to convert water or hydrogen-rich gases into H2. If fossil fuels are used for the generation of the gas, then hydrogen loses its 'clean' credentials.

Now suppose you could join the best aspects of both the biofuels and the hydrogen economy: use a liquid biofuel like ethanol in combination with a highly efficient fuel cell that powers an efficient motor. This would make for a very intersting concept, but would require a dedicated fuel cell that can handle biofuels. Luckily, a handful of researchers are working on this kind of 'direct-alcohol fuel cells' (DAFC).

Earlier we referred to Acta Nanotech, an Italian catalyst developer, which developed such a fuel cell and demonstrated its reliability when used by a range of fuels, from hydrogen and methanol, to more complex hydrocarbons including ethanol and ethylene glycol (previous post). The Acta fuel cell relies on the company's Hypermec catalysts which are highly active because of their very small particle size and exceptional controlled dispersion. They are active below freezing (with ethylene glycol fuel) and are stable to over 800°C.

Most importantly, the catalyst is platinum free, which offers the potential for low cost mass production, but does generate comparable power to conventional platinum/ruthenium catalysts. The catalysts are selective and so they are not affected by fuel crossover and can work with novel stack designs. They are also unaffected by carbon monoxide poisoning.

Acta Nanotech supplied fuel cell components to power the world's first fuel cell demonstrator vehicle that was fuelled directly by bio-ethanol. The components were delivered to a team from the German Hochschule Offenburg (University of Applied Sciences) which demonstrated the direct ethanol fuel cell vehicle at the Shell Eco-Marathon race, held in France on 13 May 2007.

The vehicle was originally designed to work on a hydrogen fuel cell and came in second out of eight in the fuel cell category under this configuration, achieving a mileage of 2716 kilometres(6,491 miles per gallon). After the event, the team used the same vehicle to test the DAFC with ethanol (see picture, click to enlarge). Since the Eco-Marathon does not have a category for this new concept yet, the vehicle demonstrated the technology as a side-event to the official race:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The team from Offenburg chose to use Hypermec catalysts and electrodes to allow their demonstrator vehicle to run directly on ethanol fuel. In so doing, they also built the first 50W ethanol fuel cell stack to use Hypermec and anion exchange membranes.

At the 2007 European Shell Eco-marathon, 65 vehicles used alternative energy sources during the event – an increase of 36% over 2006. These included 31 teams using biofuels, 26 using hydrogen cells and 7 teams that relied solar power. The most significant increase was in the use of hydrogen fuel cells, up by 50% over last year.

Last year, an ethanol vehicle made by students from the French Lycee La Joliverie won the competition and beat the fuel cell cars running on hydrogen, as well as ICE-powered cars running on other fuels.

Image: the team from the Hochschule Offenburg after the test-drive with the DAFC. Courtesy: Boris Kubrak.

EDIT: this article was edited on May 20, 2007.

More information:
Shell Eco-Marathon competition: The 2007 European Shell Eco-marathon – efficiency at its best [*.pdf] - May 13, 2007.

Acta Nanotech: Practical fuel options for new fuel cell applications.

On last year's ethanol victory: Environment News Service: Ethanol Car Beats Fuel Cells to Win European Eco-marathon - May 22, 2006.

Fuel Cell Today: Bioethanol fuel cell vehicle in Eco-marathon - May 15, 2007.

Hochschule Offenberg: FH-News Januar/Februar 2007 - Schluckspecht soll Ethanol schlucken [*German], February 2007.

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President Bush orders development of regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles - boost to biofuels

Last month, the US Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency must take action under the Clean Air Act regarding greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles. The ruling forced President George Bush to issue an executive order directing the Environmental Protection Agency and the Departments of Agriculture, Energy and Transportation to work together to begin developing regulations that will reduce gasoline consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles, using the President’s '20-in-10' plan (earlier post) as a starting point.

The rules are to be implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency before Bush leaves office in January 2009, a relatively ambitious schedule by government standards.
Developing these regulations will require coordination across many different areas of expertise. Today, I signed an executive order directing all our agencies represented here today to work together on this proposal. I've also asked them to listen to public input, to carefully consider safety, science, and available technologies, and evaluate the benefits and costs before they put forth the new regulation.

This is a complicated legal and technical matter, and it's going to take time to fully resolve. Yet it is important to move forward, so I have directed members of my administration to complete the process by the end of 2008. The steps I announced today are not a substitute for effective legislation. So my -- members of my Cabinet, as they begin the process toward new regulations, will work with the White House, to work with Congress, to pass the 20-in-10 bill. - President George W. Bush.
The '20 in 10' proposal calls for a boost in the use of biofuels. The planned 20% reduction in gasoline usage over the next 10 years includes provisions to ensure that 15% of the reduction to comes from the use of renewable and alternative fuels, and 5% from mandated increases in fuel efficiency:
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During a briefing, Secretary Of Transportation Mary Peters, Secretary Of Agriculture Michael Johanns and EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson reacted to the order:
On April 2, 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Massachusetts versus EPA that the Clean Air Act provided EPA the statutory authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from new vehicles if I determine in my judgment whether such emissions endanger public health and welfare under the Clean Air Act. Today the President has responded to the Supreme Court's landmark decision by calling on EPA and our federal partners to move forward and take the first regulatory step to craft a proposal to control greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles.

This rule-making will be complex and will require a sustained commitment from the administration to complete it in a timely fashion. While the President's 20-in-10 plan, which would increase the supply of renewable and alternative fuel and reform the CAFE standards, will serve as a guide, we have not reached any conclusions about what the final regulation will look like. In most instances, by federal law, the Environmental Protection Agency must follow a specific process and take several steps before issuing a final regulation. This is a complex issue and EPA will ensure that any possible rule-making impacting emissions from all new mobile sources through the entire United States will adhere to the federal law.

We will solicit comments on a proposed rule from a broad array of stakeholders and other interested members of the public. Our ultimate decision must reflect a thorough consideration of public comments and an evaluation of how it fits within the scope of the Clean Air Act. Only after EPA has issued a proposal and considered public comments can it finalize a regulation. Today's announcement reflects our commitment to move forward expeditiously and responsibly. - EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson

We have wide-ranging experience and significant technical knowledge at the Department of Transportation when it comes to setting fuel economic standards that require automakers to install fuel savings technology on every type of pickup truck, SUV, and minivan, regardless of their size or weight.

As a result, our repeated increases in the fuel economy standards for the light truck category of vehicles have set tough new mileage targets while encouraging consumer choice, maintaining vehicle safety, and of course, protecting jobs and the American economy. -EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson
Secretary Of Agriculture Michael Johanns stresses that, since the order is set to strengthen the case to pass the '20 in 10' bill timely, it is an important development for American agriculture:
For the United States Department of Agriculture, renewable energy is a top priority. The President's goal to achieve 20-in-10 has ignited what I would describe as a transformational period, nothing short of that, in American agriculture. He's articulated a definite vision and he has followed up on that in our case, in Agriculture's case, with a very aggressive Farm Bill proposal that will fit perfectly with what he talked about this afternoon.

We've already put forth a Farm Bill proposal that would increase funding for renewable energy by $1.6 billion. Without question, the President's proposals represent the most significant commitment to renewable energy that's ever been proposed in farm legislation. It's focused on cellulosic ethanol, which is where we believe the next step is in terms of ethanol development. And it's also one of the building blocks that will help us achieve 20-in-10.

The Farm Bill proposals would expand research into cellulosic ethanol, to improve biotechnology, and create a better crop for conversion to renewable energy and to improve that conversion process, making it more efficient and, therefore, more commercially viable.

These proposals also fit well with the President's announcement because they provide funding to support more than a billion dollars in guaranteed loans, to encourage the construction of the commercial-scale cellulosic plants. - Secretary Of Agriculture Michael Johanns
More information:
White House: Executive Order: Cooperation Among Agencies in Protecting the Environment with Respect to Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Motor Vehicles, Nonroad Vehicles, and Nonroad Engines -May 14, 2007.

White House: President Bush Discusses CAFE and Alternative Fuel Standards - May 14.

White House: Briefing by Conference Call on the President's Announcement on CAFE and Alternative Fuel Standards - May 14, 2007.

White House: Fact Sheet: Twenty in Ten: Strengthening Energy Security and Addressing Climate Change - May 14, 2007

Des Moines Register: Bush orders steps to boost biofuels - May 14.

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Pure Biofuels to acquire Peru's largest biodiesel producer

Pure Biofuels today announced the execution of a binding letter of intent to acquire Interpacific Oil SAC’s biodiesel production business, Peru’s largest and longest running biodiesel processor.

Interpacific currently produces 7.2 million gallons (27.25 million liters) per year of biodiesel and has been producing commercial quantities since 2002 when the company became the first commercial level producer of biodiesel in Peru. The move positions Pure Biofuels to become the largest producer of biodiesel in Peru, and will further complement the company’s position when it completes construction on its primary biodiesel facility in Callao, Peru, expected in the fourth quarter of 2007 (earlier post).

The purchase price for Interpacific is US$6.3 million, payable US$0.7 million in cash and US$5.6 million in Pure Biofuels common stock, and a warrant to purchase 2,925,000 shares of Pure Biofuels common stock. The closing of the acquisition is subject to customary conditions including the negotiation and execution of definitive agreements and, if the acquisition is structured as a merger, the registration of the merger process in Peru.

According to a large continent-wide study by the Inter-American Development Bank, Peru is one of Latin America's countries with a clear biofuel export potential (earlier post):
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“We are very excited to announce the acquisition of Interpacific Oil’s biodiesel business in a transaction that means so much to our company,” stated Pure Biofuels CEO, Luis Goyzueta. “This is the company that I know well – it’s where I come from. Running Interpacific’s biodiesel facility for the last five years prepared me for the launch of Pure Biofuels. Now, bringing these two operations under our umbrella and operating at its current stage of profitability is a great privilege. It strengthens Pure’s position in the marketplace – and ultimately, it provides an earlier opportunity to fill the demand from our customers.”

Pure Biofuels plans to expand the facility to a capacity of 10 million gallons per year, over two to three months following the closing. Production of biodiesel will then continue while construction takes place on Pure’s main facility on land adjacent to the Port of Callao. A decision will be made at a later date on whether to relocate the Interpacific equipment onto the Callao Port property once construction is completed or to simply continue to operate it at its present location. Along with the acquisition of Interpacific Oil, the operations and management personnel for the biodiesel facility will also be transferred with the transaction, further ensuring that there will be no interruption in operations and/or distribution.

Pure Biofuels aims to become a leader in Latin America's rapidly emerging biofuels industry. Pure Biofuels' flagship project, the Callao Port biodiesel refinery near Lima, Peru, is scheduled to commence production during the fourth quarter of 2007. The Callao Port refinery will process biodiesel from crude palm oil feedstock. Pure Biofuels has secured memorandums of understanding with local fuel distributors for all of Callao Port's annual biodiesel production.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Survey: oil execs serious about Peak Oil, but mass-produced biofuels years away

A poll by audit, tax and advisory firm KPMG questioning 553 financial executives from oil and gas companies on the future of oil and biofuels, was recently released. The survey gives a snapshot of oil execs' attitudes to global warming, Peak Oil and the potential of renewable fuels. The fact that a majority of them considers climate change to be a 'natural weather cycle' is highly significant: it shows the oil industry will go against the scientific consensus in order to maintain its power position in the energy matrix of our world.

Peak Oil is real
Twenty-five percent of the respondents said that at least 75 percent of government funding into energy should be directed at the renewable fuels sector, and a further 44 percent said that at least 50 percent of funding should be allocated in the same way. These feelings stem from the overwhelming majority, or 82 percent, citing declining oil reserves as a concern.
"These executives are deeply concerned about declining oil reserves, a situation they see as irreversible and worsening. Oil and gas companies are sending a clear signal to the government that intervention is needed." - Bill Kimble, National Line of Business Leader, Industrial Markets for KPMG LLP.
Sixty percent of the executives said they believe the trend of declining oil reserves is irreversible. And, when asked about the impact of emerging markets, such as China, will have on declining oil reserves, almost 70 percent of the executives said that it would lead the situation to worsen.

Biofuels: 'not yet'
However, more than half of the five hundred plus oil and gas executives said they didn't think 'mass production' of renewable fuels would happen in the near future.

While the petroleum company leaders said they're keen to see renewable energy sources becoming a mass produced reality, 60 percent said it will not be possible by 2010. Of those that believe it will, 18 percent identified ethanol is the most viable for mass production by then, 13 percent said biodiesel and only 3 percent said cellulosic ethanol.

Bill Kimble stressed the survey was not qualitative, only quantitative, so survey leaders didn't have a chance to probe responses in detail. But he speculated the findings reflected two big big issues regarding alternative fuels.

"What is the definition of mass production? Ethanol is a very small, small percentage of fuel production today. And secondly, what's embedded in here is the economics. Without incentives from the government, I don't think people are that positive on it until we get it right," he said. On the other hand, the Brazilian case shows that within a single country where conditions are favorable (climate, crops, land), 'mass production' of biofuels is not unfeasible.

Climate change
An amazing majority of 65 percent of the respondents said that they believe global warming is occurring, but they called it a 'natural weather cycle'. Eleven percent said that they do not believe it is occurring. Just under a quarter said they believed global warming was CO2-induced:
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Managing declining oil reserves
When asked about their upstream capital spending, the majority indicated that investment will be a factor in helping them manage declining oil reserves. Sixty-nine percent said that it would increase by more than 10 percent, a jump of 49 percent over 2005.

"The reserve opportunities are tougher, so what are you going to do? You could invest in technology, or start playing more in the alternative energy space," said Kimble.

Mergers and acquisitions continue to be a trend, with 24 percent of the executives saying that they expect their company to be involved in one in the next year. Sixty eight percent of respondents expect private equity to play a larger role over the next year than it has in previous years.

Risks in the industry
Responding to perceived risks facing their companies, KPMG's Kimble told Inside Greentech it was a "jaw-dropper" that forty-four percent identified their biggest risks as financial, specifically issues like satisfying regulatory requirements like Sarbanes-Oxley, shareholder demands and corporate social responsibility requirements.

"We put in things like access to access to drilling rigs, political unrest in foreign countries, like the west coast of Africa, environmental damage, plants having problems, access to equipment," said Kimble. "None of those emerged as big factors."

"Corporate social responsibility seemed important. They've got to get that right. That could have an impact on the market value of a company."

Image: Peak Oil scenario by the Association for the study of Peak Oil and Gas.

More information:

Inside Greentech: Oil and gas execs say biofuel mass production years away - May 11, 2007.

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Integrated biorefinery to produce biofuels and dairy products

Process integration can considerably strengthen the energy balance of biofuels (earlier post). By using by-products and residues from the production process in a 'cascading' way so they become inputs for new products or energy is a concept that will drive the design of integrated biorefineries.

Arizona-based XL Dairy Group, Inc. is building such a self-contained biorefinery designed to produce a range of products: high-grade ethanol, biodiesel, milk and dairy products, and animal feed - while all the energy used to power the refinery is derived from residues (glycerol, manure, corn bran, thin silage). The diagram (click to enlarge) offers an overview of this integration.

The US$260 million biorefinery, to be based in Vicksburg, will use proprietary technology to generate ethanol with an energy efficiency ratio of 10:1. The ratio means that for every unit of fossil fuel energy needed to produce ethanol and biodiesel, XL Dairy Group will produce 10 units

It is important to stress that this is the 'internal' energy balance of the system, which does not take into account the energy needed to grow the main input, corn, nor the feed for the cows that deliver manure from which biogas will be obtained. To compare the final energy balance of the biofuels with the energy balance of, for example sugar cane ethanol (which is between 8 to 1 and 10 to 1), one must factor in the energy inputs needed to plant, fertilise and harvest the corn as well as for the animal feed. We estimate that the final energy balance of fuels derived from the concept will then be around 3 to 1. This is twice the efficiency of a traditional dry-grind ethanol plant.

To achieve that efficiency, and generate cost savings of $0.30 to $0.35 per gallon in ethanol production and $0.50 cents per hundred weight of milk, the company will convert waste streams from the 7,500 dairy cows as well as from the fractionation, biodiesel and ethanol processes into energy to power the entire project with recycled, renewable energy.

Fractionation separates corn, the primary element in producing ethanol and biodiesel fuels, into three parts: germ, corn starch and corn bran.
"Environmentally, the project has significant advantages because of low emission of greenhouse gases through the conversion of waste streams to energy and a high energy efficiency ratio. Simply put: as the only biodiesel refinery in the nation with this level of energy efficiency, we will not be energy dependent on fossil fuels and volatile energy markets." - XL Dairy Group Chairman and CEO Dennis Corderman.
According to Corderman, the output from the integrated operation will consist of the following products:
  • 54 million gallons of ethanol per year
  • 5 million gallons of biodiesel per year
  • 11 MW of power and 155,000 pounds of steam per hour
  • 525,000 pounds of milk per day
  • 110,000 tons of animal feeds per year
Located 100 miles west of Phoenix in La Paz County, construction on the first phase of the Vicksburg BioRefinery dairy farm is complete:
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The Phase II Dairy will be constructed during 2007, and final engineering is now underway on the biofuels facility which includes the fractionation mill. The project, said Corderman, will process over 576,000 tons of corn into 54 million gallons of ethanol, five million gallons of biodiesel and 110,000 tons of animal feeds annually.

Carbon dioxide produced during the process will be captured and stored on site for sale in various applications including beverage carbonation, cooling and the production of dry ice. Carbon dioxide, one of the major contributors to greenhouse gases and global warming, also can be "scrubbed" on site and converted into oxygen to be released into the atmosphere.

XL Dairy Group also is waiting for patent approval on a proprietary, low-cost algae production system, which will then be incorporated into the XL BioRefinery to lower operating costs and expand the production of motor fuels and animal feeds. "Because algae has a higher oil content than corn, and needs much less acreage to produce much higher volumes, which we will do at the site, we expect to expand to 100 million gallons of ethanol and 25-30 million gallons of biodiesel over the next five years," added Corderman.

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

IEA study: large potential for biomass trade, under different scenarios

A new study by the International Energy Agency's Bioenergy Task 40, the leading expert organisation studying the potential for international bioenergy trade, says the use of sustainably produced biomass for energy and liquid biofuels can be increased markedy from the current level over the next decades, when fossil fuels become scarce and more expensive because of the depletion of conventional oil resources.

Drawing on discussions amongst the world's leading energy and bioenergy experts, the report made by researchers from the Lappeenranta University of Technology (Finland) created several scenarios that show different pathways in which this potential may be brought to market by 2020. Each pathway, presented as a prototypical scenario, has different economic, environmental, social and political effects that determine how large, commercially viable and sustainable biomass trade will be. The four scenarios were titled the 'Prosperous Green World', the 'Rich Global Village', the 'Rich Local Village' and 'Small is Beautiful'. No doubt, readers will prefer one alternative over the other (let us know which one you think is most realistic).

Technical sustainable potential
All scenarios start from the basic assessments of the technical potential for biomass and biofuel production (this potential is 'value free' and not determined by economics or politics). Despite the current minor role of bioenergy in the world energy supply, biomass has, in the long run, potential to become a much more important source of energy.

In the most optimistic Bioenergy Task 40 assessments, long term bioenergy potential is considerably larger than the current global energy demand from all sources (400EJ from coal, oil, gas, nuclear), without competing with food and wood production, forest production and biodiversity. The maximum potential for sustainable biomass production in 2050 is estimated to be around 1100 EJ, or around 3 times the total amount of energy used today. A more realistic and average long term potential is thought to be between 250 to 500EJ.

Table 1 (click to enlarge) gives a summary of this potential in the light of the latest studies, per biomass category and shows the main assumptions made in the determination of the potentials. The researchers confirm that Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Europe as well as Oceania and East and North-East Asia have the most promising potentiality to become important biomass producers in the long run (see earlier post).

Trade in its infancy
Even though the technical potential for biofuels and biomass is huge, current trade of biomass for energy remains extremely small. Today, indirect trade of biofuels through trading of industrial round wood and material byproducts composes the largest share of the trade. The trading represents approximately 5% of the total use of biofuels in industrialised countries (see table, click to enlarge).

The market is set to grow rapidly, though, and can go many ways. This is so because of the complexity of this emerging market. Bioenergy production and trade integrates a large series of economic, social, and environmental factors that are in turn dependent on national and international policies, trade rules, subsidies, taxes, scientific and technological developments as well as on the dynamics of energy and carbon markets.

Four scenarios for biomass trade
In order to assess the advantages, risks and uncertainties of the different pathways of bringing biomass to market, the researchers and working groups created two sets of scenarios. An international and a Finnish working group provided the inputs, whereas questionnaires based on these inputs and send to the world's leading experts (amongst them the members of the EUBIONET network) provided answers. (Here, we only discuss the results from the international workshop).

A total of 81 separate 'driving forces' and 150 questions were ideated by the working group and joined in clusters (in order of importance: economy, policies, environment, technology, production, trade, communication, consumers/suppliers, entrepreneurs and social). These factors were then given a weight of significance, and taken as a starting point to design the dimensions of the four scenarios (diagram, click to enlarge).

Per scenario, a basic SWOT analysis was carried out, showing its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Even though all scenarios (including those of the Finnish group) foresee a considerable rise in global biomass trade by 2020, the SWOT analysis determines how large, how commercially viable and how sustainable such international biomass trade will be.

Scenario 1: the 'Prosperous Green World'

Under this scenario (click to enlarge) the state of the biomass market in 2020 will look as follows:
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In the year 2020 the consumption and international trading of biomass has increased remarkably compared to the current situation. Strong and global green regulation has been the main reason for the past development. All the cheap traditional biomass resources are in use and new resources, e.g. dedicated crops, are being developed and utilised. Relatively free market conditions of biomass have stimulating new innovations regarding the production and utilisation of dedicated energy crops.

A transparent certification system of biomass production and trade is in use and it is based on international agreements. The second generation technologies are widely in use in the production of synthetic biofuels. Because of growing utilisation of the energy crops, countries with large biomass resources such as Russia, Indonesia, Brazil etc. have now a more important role as biomass producers than in the beginning of the 21st century. It is unclear if trade between countries will happen on an important scale or will it be limited only to the surplus of biomass that can not be consumed locally. Big consumers of biomass are located in Western Europe, South-East Asia and America. E.g. Brazil has a large surplus of crops and woody biomass and the country is probably taking part in global biomass trade as an exporter. China has invested in biomass production by planting forests. Sustainable development puts more emphasis on the education system and people now more aware of sustainability issues.

An increased worry about the overexploitation and unsustainable utilisation of biomass resources has been taken into account in international agreements on free trade and mitigating the climate change. Several markets, other than energy, have developed and benefited from the sustainable utilisation of biomass. For example, new markets for farmers and forest industry have opened up globally. Most of the forest industry’s mills can be now considered as biorefineries refining biomass into traditional forest products, but also liquid biofuels and chemicals.

Also the global employment situation in general has begun to look brighter and a myriad of new jobs exists especially in the production of biomass in developing countries. This has improved the economical situation in many poor countries.

The driving forces and development route of biomass market during the years 2006-2020 show the following features: During the period between 2006 and 2020, there had been a growing need for a certification system increasing the number of cases of unsustainable production of biomass, but it is not known whether the systems voluntary or obligatory. In other words, the path towards the certification system of biomass for energy remained unclear. In addition to the need of a certification system, sustainable development has been one of the key drivers of the biomass market. Also the climate change and a concern about the environment have had an influence on the development of biomass exploitation in energy production.

International agreements and long-term policies have kept the biomass production, utilisation and trade as a global issue. Additionally, incentives and obligations, technological and organisational improvements and innovations have been important driving forces for the development.

Consumers have played the most important role in the development of the biomass market. Therefore, the public opinion has been an essential factor affecting the emergence of the global market of biomass. Communication towards consumers has been in a critical role to enhance the trade of biomass and its utilisation. With a strong public and political support it is possible to plan for future success. In addition, specific education and dissemination related to bioenergy issues has also had an important role.

The year 2013 was identified as an intermediate stopping point. If “Green prosperous” comes true, certain things need to happen by then. There can not be any surprises and the development can be called “no-surprise strengthening of present trends”. In addition, investing in new green projects has to be identified as an opportunity for economic profit. Also, biomass has to be accepted as a basematerial that is readily available with a high security of supply. If things develop according to the description of the green prosperous scenario, all sectors of bioenergy of business will develop positively.

Scenario 2: the 'Rich Global Village'

The state of the biomass market in 2020 under this scenario may be described roughly in the following terms: the biomass market has become global and large trade streams of biomass from dedicated production areas to the purchasing regions of biomass are a reality. Also large quantities of refined biofuels are traded worldwide. The world can be seen as a paradise full of biomass ready for utilisation and for making money.

In spite of an economically orientated world, sustainability is a part of the business, but not dominating. The EU is the global leader in promoting bioenergy. The massively expanding biomass market in the EU is led by public utilities. The forest biomass in the EU has been certified as sustainable and the utilisation of forest resources has increased remarkably since the beginning of the 21st century. People are keeping themselves away from too strict green thinking because it might slow down the economic development in the short run.

The EU and North and South America are the major players in the biomass market. Brazil became certified sustainable and it attained a position as a major player in biomass trade and is the largest supplier of ethanol for the world market. This has been possible because trade barriers to the import of biomass to the United States and the EU have been removed. The biomass market would grow even faster if big players like the United States, China and India ratify the new Kyoto agreement starting in the year 2013. Energy consumption has grown because decision making of consumers is mainly based on cheap prices. Fast growth in energy consumption has led to the situation where fossil energy sources are becoming scarce, but new renewable energy sources have started to diversify the global energy supply. Palm oil is one of the major biomass products and its production in Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brazil fulfils the prevailing loose sustainability requirements.

Most of the biomass production in Africa is not certified as sustainable or secure, but on the other hand in Africa large volumes of biomass are still used locally mainly for cooking and heating. Many investments have been made in bioenergy in regions where the production potential of biomass is high, e.g. in Brazil.

Biomass producers will benefit highly if “Rich global village” comes true. In addition, logistics companies will prosper because large quantities have to be transported from the production regions to the customers. Also global refiners and distributors of biofuels will profit from the market conditions.

The driving forces and the development route of biomass market during the years 2006-2020 show that the market of biomass has grown as fast as possible, with the EU being an example. The status of the biomass market is quite similar to commodity markets, such as the oil market. The main drivers have been dwindling oil resources, the fear of even higher fossil fuel prices and socio-economical impacts of high fossil fuel prices. These factors were the main forces for enhancing large scale and global biomass production and utilisation. There was some uncertainty during the timeframe whether there was enough movement towards biomass utilisation without a high oil price or price peak because of an economically orientated world. In addition to the development of fossil fuel prices, the energy policy including instruments, such as energy taxation, carbon trade, feed-in tariffs and green certificates, can be considered as driving forces of the biomass market. However, most of the energy policy measures have been dumped, except global carbon trade that was needed to enhance the market position and local use of biomass.

Year 2013 as an intermediate stopping point: By the year 2013, the removing of trade barriers of biomass should be well on the way and there should be perceivable signs of development towards a commodity market of biomass.

Scenario 3: the 'Rich local village'

Under this scenario, the state of biomass market in 2020 looks like this: The rich local village is in other respects based on a wealthy unregulated economy, but external trade is limited.

Striving towards self sufficiency and independence from imported energy dominates the energy policy. There has been sustained economic growth, and a high level of technological development has been achieved in several sectors since the year 2006. Environmental and social sustainability have not been the priorities, however they have been taken care of in such a way that economic performance has not been impacted.

High import duties of fossil fuels and other economical incentives for renewable energy have improved the competitiveness of bioenergy and boosted its consumption. A great deal of subsidies have been spent on R&D and investments in bioenergy and other renewable energy technologies for meeting the policy goals. The conditions of this scenario boost the internal production and trade of biomass, because the import of biomass has to compete with subsidised internal biomass resources and products. New local biomass sources have been introduced and they are now widely utilised in energy production.

In energy production, due to availability constraints, the use of local fuels is maximised and all kinds of agricultural by-products, e.g. manure and straw, are used for energy production as well as industrial by-products and forest residues from pre-commercial thinning and final logging. The issues of biodiversity and impacts on soil conditions in the production of biomass are in the background. The price of biomass has increased close to the heavily taxed imported fossil fuels and there is a fierce competition for the limited local biomass resources.

The traditional biomass-based industries, like the forest industry, are coping with stronger competition for raw material than in the past. There has been a significant development in the use of liquid biofuels in the transportation sector in the EU, where biodiesel is the dominating “green” fuel.

Driving forces and development route of biomass market during the years 2006-2020 are largely determined by the aim to sustain economic welfare. Therefore, the economic issues and situation have guided the development of the bioenergy sector, without significant focus on environmental performance. Efficiency has also been recognised only from an economic point of view and that is why all the resources are utilised as efficiently as possible. Protectionism of the internal market is the other dominating characteristic of this scenario.

Without measures of energy policy, the competitiveness and security of the supply of local biomass would not be able to compete with import.

Year 2013 as an intermediate stopping point: by the year 2013, if the world is going towards the “Rich local village”, the EU has given strong preference to its internal market on energy. In addition, imported energy and some biomass products such as ethanol that can be replaced by local products have been subjected to higher import duties. In the “Rich local village” biomass producers, plants and bio-refineries will mostly benefit. Also all sectors of bioenergy (heat, electricity and liquid biofuels etc.) will develop.

Scenario 4: 'Small is beautiful'

State of the biomass market in 2020: in this scenario the world consists of small, self-sufficient and isolated communities. The environmental and social aspects, especially on energy, have high priority in these communities. E.g. the EU can be regarded as a community of this type. The international trade has not grown and the general economic growth of the world has been lower than it was expected in 2006.

Some regions – “the leading communities” – have been more successful in increasing their economic welfare than the rest. The relatively isolated economy and strong internal trade is specific to the communities of this world. To enhance this development, for example in the EU, more independence and power has been allocated to the member states to decide their own energy policies. This has enabled the maximised utilisation of local biomass, solar energy, wind energy and enhanced the competitiveness of local fossil energy sources, as well.

There is a lot of regulation on everything, e.g. the strict regulation for international trade. Therefore, local production is important and due to the lack of international trade the prices of industrial raw material and oil have increased.

In general, the production of agricultural products and energy crops is local. Environment and the effective utilisation of raw-materials have been taken care of profoundly, e.g. more cars are using biofuels in cities and local small-scale renewable energy systems like biofuel fired CHP plants are widely applied. In addition, energy efficient neutral greenhouses are widely in use. Biomass producers and biofuel refineries are mainly local companies. The land area dedicated to biomass production has been increased. Concern about the state of the environment and climate change has led to decreasing primary energy consumption, through energy efficient technologies and measurements such as improved insulation of buildings and energy efficiency of the industrial sector.

In addition, there has been a strong emphasis on promoting public transport systems. Small-scale combined power and heat production has become a commonly utilised competitive technology on a smaller scale than previously. Recycling and reuse of materials has increased remarkably since 2006 and it is implemented on a large scale. The community of this scenario can be called a recycling society. In addition to recycling it has to be decided where to utilise different biomass or other energy sources and where to grow food products.

The production of liquid biofuels is local and it is based on traditional small-scale as well as second generation technologies. The demand for biofuels has increased because of the increased price of oil. The high price of oil has made smaller cars that consume less fuel more popular. The basic idea in this scenario is that the lack of access to cheap external energy sources drives the development of energy market within the communities. The high cost of energy has been one factor that has caused a lack of overall economic growth.

Particularly successful communities which have efficiently utilised their local energy resources, and developed technology in the field of energy efficiency and renewable energy have benefited from the circumstances of this scenario.

Driving forces and development route of biomass markets during the years 2006-2020:
This scenario has mainly been driven by policy and consumers. Together with policy, public opinion and general thinking have been two of the key drivers. Consumers are aware and concerned about the state of the environment which has enormously influenced the development of the bioenergy sector and the actions to enhance it. In addition, the emphasis is on localisation.

When the volume of economy of a community is large enough for self-sufficiently, “Small is beautiful” can be regarded as a rather stable society in terms of the environment and with modest growth in economy and welfare. On the contrary, competition with other economic areas will be severe and without a constant adaptation of policy, after 2040 the future of the “Small is beautiful” society can go shipwrecked again within the international world.

Year 2013 as an intermediate stopping point: if the world looks like “Small is beautiful” in 2020, by the year 2013 first generation biofuels have to be used extensively instead of waiting for the second generation, and attention must be addressed to the current social problems, which may hinder the development. If this scenario comes true, the same businesses as today will succeed, but companies will be smaller. Big companies are no longer in control of the whole energy system, but there is more diversity in energy suppliers. It is necessary to develop and to invest in new and more efficient energy technologies in order to cope with challenges of the diversifying energy supply and improved utilisation of raw materials.

As the scenarios show, bioenergy production and trade can go many different ways. The complexity and multitude of factors involved allows for a range of outcomes: from very large global trades in which the pure, hard logic of economics and profit rules, to the localised, socially sustainable and equitable use of biofuels at the regional level.

We advise the reader to analyse the scenarios in combination with the IEA Bioenergy Task 40 studies on the global potential of biomass production (earlier post), on the sustainability of tropical biofuels such as ethanol from sugar cane (earlier post) and on the effects of stringent sustainability criteria on the commercial viability of biofuels and biomass (earlier post).

Read this way, this kind of scenarios offer a useful tool for planners, investors, policy makers, NGOs and, why not, individual consumers, who are faced by a rapidly developing market that is currently quite chaotic. Confusion exists about the real potential of biomass and biofuels, about the effects on food security, the environment and the socio-economic sphere. Studies like this one show that some of the panic around biofuels is totally unfounded, but that on the other hand, a critical assessment of and a longterm view on where this industry is going remains needed more than ever.

More information:
Jussi Heinimö, Virpi Pakarinen, Ville Ojanen and Tuomo Kässi, International Bioenergy Trade - scenario study on international biomass markets in 2020 [*.pdf], Lappeenranta University of Technology, Research Report 181, prepared for the IEA Bioenergy Task 40, 2007.

Biopact: A look at Africa's biofuels potential, July 30, 2006 [showing the IEA Bioenergy Task 40's longterm assessments of global bioenergy production potential].

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Cleaning up Kinshasa by introducing biogas

The people of Kinshasa, Africa's second largest and fastest growing megapolis, used to proudly call their city Kin la Belle ('Kinshasa the Beautiful') but after years of neglect, they now disparage it as Kin la Poubelle ('Kinshasa the Dustbin').

Click to open slide-show on 'Kin la Poubelle'
The waste problem in the city of 8 million has become so dramatic that it even became a topic during the recent presidential elections. Wars, corruption, dictators who only mind their own clan, the collapse of social and municipal services, lack of planning and stubborn habits of the city's swelling population have led to a management challenge so immense and smelly that nobody has the courage to tackle it. Meanwhile, the accumulating waste has become a health hazard responsible for the return of water-borne diseases like typhoid and cholera, for respiratory diseases and for water pollution.

But the confluence of a series of factors has opened new perspectives. Energy is becoming increasingly expensive in this strange city, where urban and rural logics have become intertwined. As rural populations become urbanites, they bring their habits from the country-side, and, instead of abandoning them in favor of 'modern' urban practises, they create their own village in the city. This so-called 'villagisation' of one of the world's mega-cities, has astonished many an anthropologist. Urban farming, tribal affiliations, magic, sorcery, traditional healing methods and rural household economics have become inseparable from the hip modernity that is typical of Kinshasa.

This villagisation also implies that millions of Kinois in the slums keep using fuel wood for their daily heating and cooking needs. All trees within a radius of dozens of kilometres of Kinshasa have been cut, and the expansion continues as Congo's capital grows. The result of this expansion and the lack of both electricity in the slums and of cleaner fuels (like kerosene and LPG, which are expensive) is a dramatic scarcity of fuel. Almost all large and rapidly growing cities in the huge country are facing the same problems as "Kin La Poubelle".

Writing in the Belgian Embassy's sectoral publication entitled Eau, Energie, Environnement et Agriculture professor Monzambe Mapunzu of the Department of Agronomic and Veterinary Sciences of the Université Pédagogique Nationale explains that the production of biogas from municipal solid waste can go a long way in cleaning up Congo's towns while providing a clean source of energy. Moreover, the technology could boost rural populations' access to energy and help motorise farmers' activities, resulting in higher productivity. Biogas production can also be integrated in soil enhancement strategies. Lack of clean and durable energy supplies is a major factor of underdevelopment and poverty amongst these populations:
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Monzambe says that, despite Congo's large potential energy reserves (hydropower, biofuels), the level of electrification in the country is one of the lowest on the African continent: barely 6%. Biogas offers a relatively simple, proven and reliable technology to tackle both the waste management problem in the cities as well as the lack of modern energy in the country-side.

Energy and rural development
"The diagnosis of rural development points to a deep poverty amongst populations. Decentralised and autonomous energy production, relying on the biomethanation of agricultural residues and urban solid waste can solve different problems at once: biogas can replace the use of fuel wood especially in zones that suffer under erosion, desertification and deforestation, as is the case in the peripheries around large cities; biogas can facilitate the development of small-scale agricultural motorisation (pumps, refrigerators, harvesting, transporting of crops, etc...) and can contribute to increasing agricultural productivity; biogas production can increase the fertility of soils by utilising the residues from the methanised organic matter, which make for an excellent green fertiliser".

Biogas production in the cities can help mitigate the health hazards arising from accumulating waste. During the biomethanation of waste, the anaerobic digester eliminates more than 90% of the pathogenic bacteria contained in waste, and between 90 and 100% of intestinal worms and between 35 and 100% of their eggs. In short, anaerobic digestion has the potential to reduce organic, microbial, olfactive and aesthetic pollution.

Waste management in the cities
With its urbanisation level of 30% and an average population growth of 3.3% per annum (the largest in Africa), its growing rural exodus as a result of numerous conflicts since 1963 until this day, the urban zones of Congo are becoming rapidly overpopulated. These social and demographic developments occur without any clear planning or coherent policy framework: the State doesn't provide appropriate housing for the swelling populations, new quarters are being established without any urban planning and in disregard of the most basic public health considerations (sewers, public latrines, green spaces and facilities for young people, energy and water infrastructures, roads, etc...).

According to professor Monzambe, there is a clear correlation between the demographic explosion in Congo, the production of waste and the degradation of the environment. This comes down to the basic observation that rising consumption results in growing waste streams that require appropriate management strategies. Monzambe calculated that each individual produces around 0.5kg of faecal waste, 1kg of municipal waste and 194 liters of liquid waste per day. 8 million Kinois therefor produce 4000 tons of human waste, 8000 tons of municipal solid waste and 1.552 billion liters of waste water. This huge and unmanaged stream of waste pollutes large pockets of the city, even markets where food is sold, and transforms the many canals and streams into open sewers.

Today in Kinshasa, waste is not only undermanaged but left to decompose in the open air way too long. This has become the prime cause of the resurgence of diseases like cholera and typhoid, and of respiratory diseases. Biogas production again seems to be the most appropriate technology to deal with the problem, certainly given its potential to supply energy, a scarce resource in the cities.

Translated by Laurens Rademakers

More information:
Le Potential, via AllAfrica: Congo-Kinshasa: Développement durable, l'industrie du biogaz, une réponse à la pollution des déchets dans les villes congolaises - May 2, 2007 (original article).

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South East Asia starts work on common biofuel standards

The Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand will spearhead efforts to come up with common biofuel standards that will allow them to trade and export biofuels with less hassle, according to Philippine Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla.

"Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia have something in common in terms of having a strong agricultural base. Therefore we are in a position to develop the biofuel sector," Lotilla said. "So it is in the common interest of South East Asian countries that we push now for the development of common standards, so that the tradeability of biofuels will be enhanced in the future."

The first part of the Philippine's Biofuels Act recently came into force, requiring all petroleum product distributors to blend 2% biodiesel in their supply. The biodiesel is mainly made from coconut oil. Meanwhile the ethanol industry in the country is attracting foreign investments from Japan and China (earlier post).

Indonesia is busy implementing its own very ambitious bioenergy policy, with massive investments from, amongst others, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (earlier post). The program aims to cultivate sugarcane, cassava, palm oil and jatropha on approximately 6 million hectares of land (earlier post and here).

Thailand for its part has no biofuel mandate yet, but produces a considerable volume of ethanol made from cassava, a very efficient biofuel crop (previous post). Because of a lack of clear policies, producers are even facing a surplus and are examining exports to neighboring countries (earlier post).

Lotilla, who attended a recent energy ministers' meeting in Riyadh, said Thai Energy Minister Piyavasti Amaranand had agreed that Thailand and the Philippines should work together in building up the biofuel sector in various international forums.

A separate meeting with Indonesian special envoy Alwi Shihab yielded the same results, Lotilla said. He quoted Shihab as saying the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand should ensure that biofuels and vehicles using them were not hampered by "artificial barriers to trade":
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Lotilla said the Philippines proposed a workshop that would allow countries in the region to exchange information on the status of their national efforts in developing biofuel standards and determine steps for moving forward.

"The three countries have agreed to come up with the common standards so that we will be able to share this with other countries as well," Lotilla said. "We're organising that workshop for a levelling of standards among the different East Asian countries".

There are no details on what kind of standards will be discussed, but we assume they will be dealing with technical criteria (fuel quality standards) and trade issues. Environmental and social sustainability as they are being designed in the EU are probably not the main focus of the negotiations.

Several other regional initiatives, like the Greater Mekong Subregion which includes Thailand (earlier post) and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation's (APEC) recently strengthened Biofuels Task Force (earlier post), are cooperating to create biofuels industries in the region.

More details about the Indonesian, Thai and Philippine initiative as soon as they become available.

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