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    Two members of Iowa’s congressional delegation are proposing a study designed to increase the availability of ethanol across the country. Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Ia., held a news conference Tuesday to announce that he has introduced a bill in the U.S. House, asking for a US$2 million study of the feasibility of transporting ethanol by pipeline. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Ia., has introduced a similar bill in the Senate. Des Moines Register - May 30, 2007.

    A new market study by Frost & Sullivan Green Energy shows that the renewables industry in the EU is expanding at an extraordinary rate. Today biofuels and other renewables represent about 2.1 per cent of the EU's gross domestic product and account for 3.5 million jobs. The study forecasts that revenues from renewables in the world's largest economy are set to double, triple or increase even more over the next few years. Engineer Live - May 29, 2007.

    A project to evaluate barley’s potential in Canada’s rapidly evolving biofuels industry has received funding of $262,000 from the Biofuels Opportunities for Producers Initiative (BOPI). Western Barley Growers Association [*.pdf] - May 27, 2007.

    PNOC-Alternative Fuels Corporation (PNOC-AFC), the biofuel unit of Philippine National Oil Company, is planning to undertake an initial public offering next year or in 2009 so it can have its own cash and no longer rely on its parent for funding of biofuels projects. Manila Bulletin - May 27, 2007.

    TMO Renewables Limited, a producer of ethanol from biomass, has licensed the ERGO bioinformatics software developed and maintained by Integrated Genomics. TMO will utilize the genome analysis tools for gene annotation, metabolic reconstruction and enzyme data-mining as well as comparative genomics. The platform will enable the company to further understand and exploit its thermophilic strains used for the conversion of biomass into fuel. CheckBiotech - May 25, 2007.

    Melbourne-based Plantic Technologies Ltd., a company that makes biodegradable plastics from plants, said 20 million pounds (€29/US$39 million) it raised by selling shares on London's AIM will help pay for its first production line in Europe. Plantic Technologies [*.pdf] - May 25, 2007.

    Shell Hydrogen LLC and Virent Energy Systems have announced a five-year joint development agreement to develop further and commercialize Virent's BioForming technology platform for the production of hydrogen from biomass. Virent Energy Systems [*.pdf] - May 24, 2007.

    Spanish energy and engineering group Abengoa will spend more than €1 billion (US$1.35 billion) over the next three years to boost its bioethanol production, Chairman Javier Salgado said on Tuesday. The firm is studying building four new plants in Europe and another four in the United States. Reuters - May 23, 2007.

    According to The Nikkei, Toyota is about to introduce flex-fuel cars in Brazil, at a time when 8 out of 10 new cars sold in the country are already flex fuel. Brazilians prefer ethanol because it is about half the price of gasoline. Forbes - May 22, 2007.

    Virgin Trains is conducting biodiesel tests with one of its diesel engines and will be running a Voyager train on a 20 percent biodiesel blend in the summer. Virgin Trains Media Room - May 22, 2007.

    Australian mining and earthmoving contractor Piacentini & Son will use biodiesel from South Perth's Australian Renewable Fuels across its entire fleet, with plans to purchase up to 8 million litres from the company in the next 12 months. Tests with B20 began in October 2006 and Piacentinis reports very positive results for economy, power and maintenance. Western Australia Business News - May 22, 2007.

    Malaysia's Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Peter Chin Fah Kui announces he will head a delegation to the EU in June, "to counter European anti-palm oil activists on their own home ground". The South East Asian palm oil industry is seen by many European civil society organisations and policy makers as unsustainable and responsible for heavy deforestation. Malaysia Star - May 20, 2007.

    Paraguay and Brazil kick off a top-level seminar on biofuels, cooperation on which they see as 'strategic' from an energy security perspective. 'Biocombustiveis Paraguai-Brasil: Integração, Produção e Oportunidade de Negócios' is a top-level meeting bringing together the leaders of both countries as well as energy and agricultural experts. The aim is to internationalise the biofuels industry and to use it as a tool to strengthen regional integration and South-South cooperation. PanoramaBrasil [*Portuguese] - May 19, 2007.

    Portugal's Galp Energia SGPS and Petrobras SA have signed a memorandum of understanding to set up a biofuels joint venture. The joint venture will undertake technical and financial feasibility studies to set up a plant in Brazil to export biofuels to Portugal. Forbes - May 19, 2007.

    The Cypriot parliament has rejected an amendment by President Papadopoulos on the law regarding the use of biofuels that contain genetically modified substances. The amendment called for an alteration in the law that currently did not allow the import or use of biofuels that had been produced using GM substances, something that goes against a recent EU Directive on GMOs. Cyprus Mail - May 18, 2007.

    According to Salvador Rivas, the director for Non-Conventional Energy at the Dominican Republic's Industry and Commerce Ministry, a group of companies from Brazil wants to invest more than 100 million dollars to produce ethanol in the country, both for local consumption and export to the United States. Dominican Today - May 16, 2007.

    EWE AG, a German multi-service energy company, has started construction on a plant aimed at purifying biogas so that it can be fed into the natural gas grid. Before the end of the year, EWE AG will be selling the biogas to end users via its subsidiary EWE Naturwatt. Solarthemen [*German] - May 16, 2007.

    Scania will introduce an ethanol-fueled hybrid bus concept at the UITP public transport congress in Helsinki 21-24 May 2007. The full-size low-floor city bus is designed to cut fossil CO2 emissions by up to 90% when running on the ethanol blend and reduce fuel consumption by at least 25%. GreenCarCongress - May 16, 2007.

    A report by the NGO Christian Aid predicts there may be 1 billion climate refugees and migrants by 2050. It shows the effects of conflicts on populations in poor countries and draws parallels with the situation as it could develop because of climate change. Christian Aid - May 14, 2007.

    Dutch multinational oil group Rompetrol, also known as TRG, has entered the biofuel market in France in conjunction with its French subsidiary Dyneff. It hopes to equip approximately 30 filling stations to provide superethanol E85 distribution to French consumers by the end of 2007. Energy Business Review - May 13, 2007.

    A group of British organisations launches the National Forum on Bio-Methane as a Road Transport Fuel. Bio-methane or biogas is widely regarded as the cleanest of all transport fuels, even cleaner than hydrogen or electric vehicles. Several EU projects across the Union have shown its viability. The UK forum was lauched at the Naturally Gas conference on 1st May 2007 in Loughborough, which was hosted by Cenex in partnership with the NSCA and the Natural Gas Vehicle Association. NSCA - May 11, 2007.

    We reported earlier on Dynamotive and Tecna SA's initiative to build 6 bio-oil plants in the Argentinian province of Corrientes (here). Dynamotive has now officially confirmed this news. Dynamotive - May 11, 2007.

    Nigeria launches a national biofuels feasibility study that will look at the potential to link the agricultural sector to the automotive fuels sector. Tim Gbugu, project leader, said "if we are able to link agriculture, we will have large employment opportunity for the sustenance of this country, we have vast land that can be utilised". This Day Onlin (Lagos) - May 9, 2007.

    Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva meets with the CEO of Portuguese energy company Galp Energia, which will sign a biofuel cooperation agreement with Brazilian state-owned oil company Petrobras. GP1 (*Portuguese) - May 9, 2007.

    The BBC has an interesting story on how biodiesel made from coconut oil is taking the pacific island of Bougainville by storm. Small refineries turn the oil into an affordable fuel that replaces costly imported petroleum products. BBC - May 8, 2007.

    Indian car manufacturer Mahindra & Mahindra is set to launch its first B100-powered vehicles for commercial use by this year-end. The company is confident of fitting the new engines in all its existing models. Sify - May 8, 2007.

    The Biofuels Act of the Philippines has come into effect today. The law requires all oil firms in the country to blend 2% biodiesel (most often coconut-methyl ester) in their diesel products. AHN - May 7, 2007.

    Successful tests based on EU-criteria result in approval of 5 new maize hybrids that were developed as dedicated biogas crops [*German]. Veredlungsproduktion - May 6, 2007.

    With funding from the U.S. Department of Labor Workforce Innovation for Regional Economic Development (WIRED), Michigan State University intends to open a training facility dedicated to students and workers who want to start a career in the State's growing bioeconomy. Michigan State University - May 4, 2007.

    Researchers from the Texas A&M University have presented a "giant" sorghum variety for the production of ethanol. The crop is drought-tolerant and yields high amounts of ethanol. Texas A & M - May 3, 2007.

    C-Tran, the public transportation system serving Southwest Washington and parts of Portland, has converted its 97-bus fleet and other diesel vehicles to run on a blend of 20% biodiesel beginning 1 May from its current fleet-wide use of B5. Automotive World - May 3, 2007.

    The Institut Français du Pétrole (IFP) and France's largest research organisation, the CNRS, have signed a framework-agreement to cooperate on the development of new energy technologies, including research into biomass based fuels and products, as well as carbon capture and storage technologies. CNRS - April 30, 2007.

    One of India's largest state-owned bus companies, the Andra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation is to use biodiesel in one depot of each of the 23 districts of the state. The company operates some 22,000 buses that use 330 million liters of diesel per year. Times of India - April 30, 2007.

    Indian sugar producers face surpluses after a bumper harvest and low prices. Diverting excess sugar into the ethanol industry now becomes more attractive. India is the world's second largest sugar producer. NDTVProfit - April 30, 2007.

    Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and his Chilean counterpart Michelle Bachelet on Thursday signed a biofuel cooperation agreement designed to share Brazil's experience in ethanol production and help Chile develop biofuels and fuel which Lula seeks to promote in other countries. More info to follow. People's Daily Online - April 27, 2007.

    Italy's Benetton plans to build a €61 million wood processing and biomass pellet production factory Nagyatád (southwest Hungary). The plant will be powered by biogas. Budapest Sun - April 27, 2007.

    Cargill is to build an ethanol plant in the Magdeburger Börde, located on the river Elbe, Germany. The facility, which will be integrated into existing starch processing plant, will have an annual capacity of 100,000 cubic meters and use grain as its feedstock. FIF - April 26, 2007.

    Wärtsilä Corporation was awarded a contract by the Belgian independent power producer Renogen S.A. to supply a second biomass-fuelled combined heat and power plant in the municipality of Amel in the Ardennes, Belgium. The new plant will have a net electrical power output of 3.29 MWe, and a thermal output of up to 10 MWth for district heating. The electrical output in condensing operation is 5.3 MWe. Kauppalehti - April 25, 2007.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

ICRISAT's pro-poor biofuels initiative - video

As we reported earlier, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) is linking up poor and marginal farmers of the drylands of the developing countries with the global biofuel revolution while strengthening their food and income security. The following video was distributed by ICRISAT and presents the program in a nutshell:
The Andhra-Pradesh based scientific institute, which is a partner of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) that helped achieve the 'Green Revolution', is working with governments and industry leaders to develop partnerships that can result in economic benefits for the poor and marginal farmers of the semi-arid tropics, even while retaining the strong economic competitiveness for the industry. The idea is to develop partnerships that link ICRISAT's innovative research directly with farmers and markets.

Under the pro-poor biofuels initiative, ethanol will be made from a high-yield sweet sorghum variety developed by the ICRISAT and that smallholders in drylands can cultivate with ease. The crop yields food, fodder and fuel. Likewise, cooperatives run by women make biodiesel from crops such as jatropha and pongamia and use the fuel to power diesel generators for rural electrification, tractors and farming equipment and cars [entry ends here].
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Green designer coal: more on hydrothermal carbonisation of biomass

Previously we had a look at the work of German scientists from the Max Planck Institute who developed a simple but ingenious and efficient way to produce renewable coal from biomass, called hydrothermal carbonisation. The potential for this technology is so large that some think it could cover countries' entire energy needs and may lower the reliance on climate destructive coal. An example: if the 70 million tonnes of biomass that Germany produces every year were to be converted into 'bio-coal', this would be sufficient to cover the country's entire energy needs.

What is more the green coal can be designed according to specific needs: it can be made to resemble hard coal for use in traditional power plants, converted into liquid fuels or mimic carbon-rich top-soil that can boost the fertility of nutrient-poor soils. Ultimately a carbon fuel cell could be envisioned in which the bio-based black powder would be converted into electricity without being burned. This would avoid the drawbacks of fuel cells that make use of a gas like hydrogen that is difficult to handle.

In "A Stroke of Genius? A New Recipe for Coal" the Deutsche Welle has an interesting talk with Markus Antonietti (photo), director of the Max Planck Institute for Colloid and Interface Research who helped design the conversion process. A video is available, in which the researcher describes the process as follows:
Biomass goes into the autoclave, a kind of pressure cooker. Leaves, pine cones and other plant residues are put into the pot. Water goes in, too, along with a citric acid catalyst. The mixture releases a lot of heat - in other words, energy.
We underestimated this when we started. We could calculate how much energy was stored in the sugar - in the leaf material. But the first time - as you see - we had a runaway reaction, which is obviously dangerous, so we need to carry it out under safe conditions.
It really is a simple reaction. The ingredients just have to be heated for 12 hours at 180 degrees Celsius. And the coal is ready. The single major by-product of the reaction is water, which can filtered off. In contrast to other biomass techniques this reaction does not generate carbon dioxide. And it gives a higher-energy product, which even smells acceptable.
Could this laboratory coal be produced on a large scale? According to Antonietti, it makes economic sense. If it were up to him the 50,000 tonnes of plant refuse that accumulate yearly in Berlin would be converted into 20,000 tonnes of usable carbon. The energy needed for the heating is no greater that that required by other bioconversion methods. Until that day comes, the Max Planck scientists intend to go on with their research. They want to study their laboratory coal in detail.

Because not all coal is alike. The researchers can adjust the bio-coal to be just a bit refined, or they can cook it until it's like hard coal. One end of the spectrum is topsoil, the other is anthracite. This opens new perspectives: a nutrient-rich earth-like coal can be used to help barren landscapes bloom; soft lignite can be burned in efficient CHP plants, whereas hard coal may be used in large existing power plants.

Markus Antonietti's team is now going to work on the transformation of the bio-coal into synthetic petroleum ('bio-coal to liquids') but the ultimate goal is to design a carbon fuel cell that would directly convert the bio-coal via an electrochemical process [entry ends here].
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UK outlines Biomass Strategy: large potential for bioenergy, bioproducts

The UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Department of Transport (DoT) have released their joint report on the potential of and strategies to exploit biomass for energy, fuels and renewable products in the UK.

The Biomass Strategy [*.pdf] was published in conjunction with the UK's Energy White Paper, and represents the government’s response to the Biomass Task Force’s report published last year. The cross-departmental report says "there is significant potential to expand the UK supply of biomass without any detrimental effect on food supplies and in a sustainable manner". However, the strategy includes a vision of international biomass and biofuels trade, in which up to half of all bioenergy is imported. To globalise the market, DEFRA, DTI and DoT will strengthen bilateral, trilateral and multilateral cooperation with countries in the South and with international bodies like the UN's Global Bioenergy Partnership.

The report is further informed by a series of additional studies, including economic, carbon and energy analyses of bioenergy sources, a report on the distribution of bioenergy crops in the UK, and a study on the potential of anaerobic digestion for the production of biogas.

These previously separate work streams have now been brought together under a single integrated Renewable Fuels and Materials programme that will focus on the sustainable development of a bioeconomy based on:
  • Bioenergy (for heat, cooling, electricity and transport biofuels)
  • Renewable and biobased construction materials
  • Renewable green chemicals (including monomers, polymers and oils)
  • Plant-based pharmaceuticals, nutriceuticals and bio-actives
The Biomass Strategy has identified a large potential for the bioeconomy in the UK. By 2030 some 25 million tonnes of oil equivalent energy (MTOE) can be obtained from domestic energy agriculture, forestry and residue streams (image 1, click to enlarge). It has found that an additional one million dry tonnes of wood per year from woodland and other wood waste products could be harvested for use in biomass power plants and biorefineries. It also assumes market forces would deliver an increase in the amount of energy crops grown to meet the UK market – with the potential to use up to a further 350,000 ha of farmland across the UK by 2020. In total, the report estimates the total land availability for biofuel and energy crops to be about 1 million hectares (2.47m acres), equivalent to 17% of the total UK arable land area. However, imports of bioenergy will play a major role to meet EU targets for renewables:
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The report states that biomass will have a central role to play in meeting the EU target of 20% renewable energy by 2020. The Climate Change Bill, published in draft in March 2007, sets out a proposed UK target of at least 60% cuts in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 and a strong new system of carbon budgeting. Biomass can contribute considerably to achieving these goals.

The UK government's strategy for bioenergy consists of:
  • realising a major expansion in the supply and use of biomass in the UK
  • facilitate the development of a competitive and sustainable market and supply chain
  • promote innovation and low-carbon technology development so biomass can deliver relatively higher energy yields
  • contribute to overall environmental benefits and the health of ecosystems through the achievement of multiple benefits from land use
  • facilitate a shift towards a bio-economy through sustainable growth and development of biomass use for fuels and renewable materials
  • maximise the potential of biomass to contribute to the delivery of our climate change and energy policy goals: to reduce CO2 emissions, and achieve a secure, competitive and affordable supply of fuel.

Biomass production

Delivery of the strategy will require a major expansion of biomass use and sustainable supply. It is acknowledged that increasing the supply of biomass will have implications for land use, biodiversity, landscape and a range of other environmental factors. The report thinks that a significant increase in sustainable UK biomass production, taking full account of the lessons learnt from more traditional forms of agriculture and emerging understanding of how ecosystems work, is achievable.

They aim is to seek to deliver an expansion of biomass production in a way which is consistent with an enhanced, sustainable approach to land management. This will deliver multiple environmental benefits and enhance the health of ecosystems. The authores have looked carefully at the supply side. They believe there is significant potential to expand the UK supply of biomass without any detrimental effect on food supplies and in a sustainable manner by:
  • sourcing an additional 1 million dry tonnes of wood per annum from currently unmanaged woodland in England, and from increasing the recovery of wood for energy from managed woodland and other sources of wood waste products across the UK

  • increasing the amount of perennial energy crops produced in the UK to meet market demands – with the potential to use up to a further 350,000 hectares across the UK by 20202. This brings the total land availability for biofuel and energy crops to around 1 million hectares, equivalent to 17% of total UK arable land (image 2, click to enlarge)
  • increasing supply from organic waste materials such as manures and slurries, certain organic wastes, source separated waste biomass and waste derived Solid Recovered Fuels (SRF) by expanding existing biomass supplies in this way we estimate the potential future biomass resource in the UK to be a total of approximately 96.2 TWh (8.3 Mtoe). If it is assumed UK biofuel crop production can supply half of the 5% (by volume) target for 20103 this gives a total predicted theoretical biomass resource level in the UK of around 10.0 Mtoe4. This compares with a total UK energy need of currently 165 Mtoe5. These estimates could be considered conservative.

It is clear that imports will continue to play a significant role in meeting UK energy needs, particularly for transport fuels and co-firing (electricity produced from fossil fuels co-fired with biomass). It is estimated that current annual imports account for the equivalent of some 54TWh. This figure is expected to grow.

The authors are keenly aware of the environmental risks from unsustainable production and damaging changes of land use. They fully support the EU approach of linking potential increases in biofuel targets to sustainability criteria. It is acknowledged that increasing the supply of biomass will have implications for land use, biodiversity, the environment and the landscape.

Imports will have an important role to play in meeting the demand for biomass this strategy will create and here we are taking steps to ensure sustainable practices are at the heart of our policies.

Future decisions on biomass production will require a long term view. Climate change is expected to have an impact on the biomass that will flourish in the UK over the next 50-60 years. Some existing biomass sources will cease to be viable in certain
locations while other new species can be introduced. Other sources of biomass such as certain wastes are suitable for energy recovery, including through anaerobic digestion and have an increasingly important role to play. This will expand biomass energy production and reduce the carbon impact of waste management.

Innovation to improve efficiencies
Biomass supply can also be increased through technology innovation, which can improve the efficiency of the energy conversion and reduce the delivered amount and cost of the fuels used. The technology used for heat and power generation is primarily well-established combustion technology.

This can provide heat and power reliably but at low efficiencies when compared with equivalent largerscale fossil fuel generation technologies. Further research is required into potentially more efficient energy generation technologies, such as gasification and pyrolysis.

Both Government and industry are already investing strongly in energy innovation. This includes fundamental research through to the deployment of technologies. This investment is set to rise. A new public/private sector joint venture, the Energy Technologies Institute, will be established. This will have a budget of up to £1bn over the next decade for R&D in low carbon energy technologies and demand management. A new Environmental Transformation Fund (ETF) is also being established to invest in low-carbon energy, including the demonstration and deployment of energy technologies such as bioenergy.

Supply chain development
DEFRA, DTI and DoT are committed to the ongoing development of biomass supply chains in conjunction with action to develop the bioenergy market. They are working closely with the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) on the development of regional carbon targets. The RDAs also have a key role to play in building the partnerships needed to develop supply chains as an integral part of the regional strategies for renewable energy development. This will facilitate the development of supply chains best suited to local needs and resources.

Biomass for energy
The strategy emphasises the wish to increase the use of biomass as an energy source, given its importance in the transport, heat and electricity sectors. DEFRA, DTI and DoT have looked across the different energy sectors in order to establish which represents the most effective use of biomass raw materials. The analysis shows a clear hierarchy of use in terms of cost of carbon saving (£/tonneC):
  • biomass heating is the most effective form of bioenergy, particularly in industrial and commercial applications
  • biomass combined heat and power (CHP)
  • co-fired electricity in large fossil fuel plants
  • dedicated biomass power plant
  • transport biofuels
Incentives are already in place to support the use of biomass as a renewable fuel source for heat, electricity, and transport. The nature and level of incentives vary between the different sectors, and include the Renewables Obligation (for electricity supply), the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation, and grants towards the capital costs of heat, and CHP.

One conclusion of the strategy is that these incentives should be reordered to reflect this hierarchy of use of biomass. However, such an interpretation would be overly simplistic as it does not take into account the relative importance of biomass fuel sources in delivering climate change goals and targets. For example, despite their higher cost of carbon, transport biofuels are essential to carbon savings in the transport sector for which there are few other options in the short to medium term.

RTFO criteria
The RTFO, when introduced, will mean that by 2010, 5% of fuels sold on UK forecourts will come from renewable sources. DEFRA, DTI and DoT are committed to increasing the level of the planned RTFO beyond 5% after 2010/11, but only if the following conditions are met:
  • biofuels are produced in a sustainable way delivering maximum carbon savings with
  • minimum adverse environmental impacts
  • biofuel blends higher than 5% will not lead to mechanical problems in vehicles
  • costs to consumers and the wider economy will be acceptable
The hierarchy can nevertheless be applied in part. It will inform consideration of renewable energy targets, and the revisions currently being proposed to the Renewables Obligation, in particular the new system of banding support levels to promote emerging energy technologies. It also points to the need for work on whether further measures can be developed to support renewable heat (and cooling), utilising biomass sources, which the Government undertakes to do.

International cooperation
DEFRA, DTI and DoT recognise that there are many countries in which bioenergy has made a more significant contribution towards energy generation for a variety of reasons and where renewable materials are more widely used. The policy makers will continue to engage internationally to establish what lessons we can learn and will continue to play an active role to promote the sustainable use of biomass at an international level. More specifically we:

  • are committed to adopting the CEN European Standards for Solid Biofuels and Solid Recovered Fuels in England. We will support the BSI’s mirror committee in the development and transition of the standards from Technical Specifications to full European Standards (EN) to ensure they provide useable robust documents for the UK. DEFRA, DTI and DoT are working to make the solid biofuel technical specifications available as a free download through the Biomass Energy Centre website. The policy makers will support the industry and end users through a series of information documents and events, to ensure the standards are understood and integrated into everyday use.
  • will actively engage at EU and international levels with a view to developing targets for sustainable biomass renewable energy use and taking forward the agreements reached at the Spring European Council. DEFRA, DTI and DoT will continue to support the efforts of the UK-Brazil-Southern Africa Biofuels Taskforce in assisting Mozambique to implement a national biofuels strategy and thereafter development of an SADC region biofuel market.
  • will actively engage with international bioenergy fora such as the Global Bioenergy Partnership (GBEP), the International Biofuels Forum launched recently (this involves the USA, Brazil, India, China and South Africa, with the UK represented via European Commission) and the International Energy Agency Bioenergy Implementing Agreement. This work seeks to improve co-operation and information exchange between countries with national programmes of research, development and deployment. The agreement aims to accelerate the use of environmentally sound, sustainable and cost effective bioenergy and involves 21 countries plus the EU. DEFRA, DTI and DoT will continue to contribute to the development of global sustainability criteria for biofuels through such bodies.
The report concludes that the impact of increased biomass use must be sustainable and the impact of this strategy on the environment and the utilisation of land for food production will be monitored closely. DEFRA, DTI and DoT will involve stakeholders closely in this process. However, given the evolving policy context it will be necessary to fine tune objectives and actions flowing from them to take account of changing national and international priorities. In the longer term, the ambition is to promote international collaboration on research and good practice which delivers more efficient and sustainable bioenergy production and use.

More information:
DEFRA, DTI and DoT: Biomass Strategy [*.pdf] - May 2007.

The UK Biomass Energy Centre

UK Government non-food crops and uses strategy

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Japan to spend 209 billion yen on next-generation cars and biofuels

Japan's Ministry for Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) will spend ¥209 billion (€1.27/US$1.72 billion) over five years to help companies develop next-generation cars and fuels that would cut carbon dioxide emissions.

In the five years to March 2012, the government will subsidize development of batteries and hydrogen fuel cells for vehicles, gas-to-liquid (GTL) technology for producing synthetic diesel from natural gas, and next-generation biofuels. The goal is to meet cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, to improve energy security and to lead the development of efficient and green mobility technologies that can be exported world wide.

Japan, a signatory to the Kyoto protocol, has lagged behind its target under the treaty, emitting more greenhouse gases compared with 1990. The government is relying on new technologies to meet its aim of cutting emissions 6 percent from the 1990 level by 2012 in the world's second-biggest economy. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently added a long term target to cut emissions in half by 2050.
"Currently Japan relies almost completely on oil products the meet the fuel needs of its transport sector, and we need to curb it. Consumers bear additional costs for environmentally friendly products, but our aim is to not burden them for choosing ecologically-friendly products." - Satoshi Kusakabe, director of METI's auto division
The subsidy plan includes the following targets:
  • To bring down costs of hydrogen fuel-cell cars (currently more than 20 times the price of a gasoline-driven vehicle) to those of cars powered by ICE's. ¥32 billion per year has been allocated for at least the next five years to achieve this goal.
  • ¥24.5 billion will be invested in the development of batteries
  • ¥24 billion for gas-to-liquid technology in the five years ending March 2012
  • To promote the use of biofuels and to cut prices for cellulosic biofuels to about ¥20 per liter. Such second-generation biofuels currently cost around ¥150 per liter (€0.91 per liter/US$4.66 per gallon).
Takashi Shimada, director of policy planning section at the natural resources department of METI said Japan will try to produce biofuels domestically from agricultural residues (such as rice straw). This comes at a time when Japan is investing heavily in sourcing biofuels from the tropics, most notably from Brazil and South East Asia:
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Exporting green technologies worldwide
Takashi Shimada added that Japan can develop these technologies and export them worldwide to help halve carbon dioxide emissions on the planet.

The ministry, together with the Petroleum Association of Japan and the automaker's association, will form a study group in July to discuss measures to cut costs.

Japan emitted 8.1 percent more greenhouse gases in the year ended March 31, 2006, than in 1990, according to the environment ministry, led by a 37 percent surge from households and a 42 percent jump from commercial users like office-building owners.

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Interview: University of Offenburg demonstrates world's first 'Direct Ethanol Fuel Cell'

Students from Germany's University of Offenburg are familiar faces at the European edition of the Shell Eco-Marathon, the race where teams from across the continent compete to drive as far as possible on a liter of fuel. The yearly event is a celebration of efficiency, creativity and future technologies.
The Offenburg team has a very strong track record: two years ago it received the first prize in the diesel engine category, while last year it demonstrated Germany's most efficient hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. At this year's edition, held earlier this month on the race track in Nogaro (France), its hydrogen powered car achieved a mileage of 2716 kilometres per liter (6,491 miles per gallon) of gasoline equivalent fuel.

But it was after the competition, during a unique side-event, that the Offenburg engineers showed their skills to achieve a premiere. On May 13, they demonstrated the world's first 'Direct Ethanol Fuel Cell' (DEFC) in a vehicle. This unique configuration combines the advantages of fuel cells with those of ethanol, side-stepping the disadvantages of hydrogen gas.

In this interview, Professor Uli Hochberg and Andy Hug, both members of the development team behind the DEFC, talked with Biopact's Jonas Van Den Berg and Laurens Rademakers about the technology behind the unique achievement.

Biopact: Can you explain how this type of fuel cell works?
Prof. Hochberg: Our cell is different from conventional cells, as we use anionic membranes in an alkaline fuel cell. On the cathode side (air side) oxygen from the air and water is reduced to a hydroxyl ion (OH-). For this reaction to occur, an electron is needed. The hydroxyl ion travels through a membrane to the anode side and oxidises ethanol to carbon dioxide and water. The electron is released and “travels back” to the cathode side, powering our motor.

Biopact: Alkaline fuel cells are a rather old technology, abandoned 20 years ago. Why did you pick up this technology?
Hochberg: Indeed, the technology was abandoned due to the lack of alkaline membranes, though in principle the efficiency should be higher and the use of non-noble catalysts should be easier under alkaline conditions. Meanwhile alkaline membranes are being developed for water treatment systems, but most of the research is still focused on proton exchange membranes (acid membranes). We thought it would be worth it to have a closer look at this technology again. Even catalysts containing noble metals that can oxidize ethanol (like Platinum-Tin) seem to be unstable under acid conditions – another reason for us to reevaluate the alkaline technology.

Biopact: So what types of catalysts did you use then?
Andy Hug: We characterized noble metal catalysts as well as platinum-free HYPERMECTM catalysts from ACTA. Those catalysts showed the highest cell voltages and ACTA provided us with sufficient amount of catalysts for the demonstration.

Biopact: Last year you built Germany's most efficient hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, but we never heard of the University of Offenburg actually developing fuel cells. How was it possible for you to come up with such a development?
Hug: We were supported by the Zentrum für Sonnenenergie und Wasserstoffforschung (ZSW - Center for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research) in Ulm. Dr. Gogel and Dr. Jörissen from the Center guided our students and gave us essential hints for the design of our cell.

Biopact: Did the DEFC perform well during the test in Nogaro?
Prof. Hochberg: Well, we were very excited by the idea of using ethanol as a fuel for our car. Ethanol is much more practical to use than hydrogen gas. The demonstration was a great success, but it is clear that there is still a lot of work to be done before the technology with alkaline membranes can be commercialized:
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Biopact: The DEFC's like the one you tested will probably be used first to power electronic devices like laptops and cell phones. Do you think the technology will be scaled up and used in the passenger cars of the future?
Hochberg: Who knows? Having a horizon of 10 years, I don’t think it will be used in passenger cars. But as you say, there are a lot of applications where a combustion engine can not be used.

Biopact: The Offenburg team ran the Eco-Marathon on hydrogen. Many see the 'hydrogen economy' as an alternative to the fossil fuel based economy, and considerable funding and investments are going into the development of hydrogen systems. But some critics point to the fact that this energy concept may not be feasible because hydrogen production, distribution and storage is inefficient or very costly. What is your view on the long term outlook of this 'hydrogen economy', especially when it comes to transport?
Hochberg: Indeed, the distribution and storage of hydrogen is much more costly and inefficient than distribution and storage of a liquid fuel. Two years ago, we received the first prize in the Eco-Marathon for diesel engines. The weight and the space required for the hydrogen storage this year was significantly higher than the weight and the space for the diesel storage 2 years ago. The difference was up to 10 times as large. So there is still a long way to go before we can switch to hydrogen cars without having to reduce the comfort we like to have in our cars – time enough to look for other alternatives.

Biopact: If you were to have unlimited funds to design a hyper-efficient passenger car, what kind of propulsion/fuel system would it use?
Hochberg: Unlimited funds? Fantastic!
If the car is to be commercialized within the next 5 or 10 years, it would be a hybrid car with hub motors similar to the motor we have developed for our vehicle, having a combustion engine.

The primary energy source would be a "designer fuel", made from renewable energy such as hydrogen or biomass, converted into a liquid fuel according to the Fischer-Tropsch process. Or methane from renewable (biogas) or non renewable resources. Those “designer fuels” are actually under development (BTL: biomass to liquid, GTL: gas to liquid). Ethanol would also be an alternative. This car would not only be hyper-efficient, it would also have a nice performance due to the fact that each wheel could be accelerated or deaccelareted separately according to the actual situation.

If the car is to be commercialized later, I would invest in at least 3 different technologies, because to me it is not yet clear which will be the technology of the future. One of them would definitely be the hydrogen fuel cell.

Image (click to enlarge): The Offenberg team showing the DEFC powered vehicle. The team's members (from left to right): Viktor Ritter (aerodynamics and rims), Boris Kubrak (coordination, aerodynamics and race strategy), Sigrid Herb (pilot, PR), Gabriel Antes (carbon fiber technology), Ulrich Hochberg (administration), Andreas Frank (DEFC development/catalyst and membrane screening), Daniela Morgenstern (driver, PR), Marcel Menne (electronics, software engineering), Frank Erdrich (software engineering), Frank Beger (fuel cell electronics, electrical assembling), Andreas Hug (DEFC development coordination), Christian Bohnert (DEFC development / fabrication), Christian Basler (DEFC development/catalyst and membrane screening), Nils-Malte Jahn (hub motor development, electronics), Heiko Westphal (DEFC development / membrane coating), Oliver Matt (DEFC development/stack assembly) and Johannes Offenburger (DEFC development/MEA fabrication). Credit: Shell/Studio Reck.

CC, Biopact, 2007.

More information:
Hochschule Offenburg (University of Applied Sciences): “Schluckspecht auf dem 2. Platz - Weltweit erste Ethanol-Brennstoffzelle vorgestellt” – May 2007.

EnviroDaq: Acta catalysts drive ethanol fuel cell vehicle – May 15, 2007.

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Brazilian biofuels update

Brazil has been very active again these past few days, with some interesting developments in the field of bilateral cooperation, work on biofuels infrastructures (a second ethanol pipeline and waterway infrastructures) and Petrobras' announcement that biofuels have become one of its main strategic sectors, especially the development of its proprietary fuel known as 'H-Bio'. A company's spokesman has also elaborated on Petrobras' plans to further help Africa (in particular Nigeria) to kickstart a biofuels industry. Finally, the rapid mechanisation of sugar cane harvesting in Brazil is resulting in a growing number of cane cutters losing their jobs. The question of finding alternative forms of employment for them is becoming an important issue of discussion.

Brazil and Vietnam to cooperate
In a short note, the Vietnamese government announced today it had approved a plan with Brazil to produce ethanol fuel in Vietnam. Hanoi said in a government directive it had assigned Minister of Industry Hoang Trung Hai to sign an agreement with Brazil, the world's top ethanol exporter, to share ethanol fuel technologies. The directive did not provide details of the plan.

Brazil and Panama: towards a win-win strategy

Long ago, there was some talk about Brazil's vision of creating a centrally located biofuel hub that could serve both the North American, the European and the Asian markets. The idea was to implant biodiesel and ethanol plants in Panama, where raw materials would be transformed into marketable liquid fuels, and then to ship them out. A main objective: to avoid the US tariff on imported ethanol.

During his first visit to Brazil, Panama's president Martín Torrijos toured the ethanol industry and with Lula announced [*Portuguese] that both countries would cooperate on ethanol production, as well as on the expansion of the Canal. Panama will invite Brazilian companies to invest and support them to export ethanol to the U.S., bypassing the tariff. Moreover, Torrijos announced that at the upcoming negotiations with the U.S. on the 'Tratado de Livre-Comércio' (free trade agreement) he will make sure Brazilian companies stand to benefit indirectly, by making Panama their hub to access the North American market more easily.

Besides technical and trade cooperation, Panama and Brazil will jointly study and invest in the sugar cane potential of the country. Currently, some 25,000 hectares of land are devoted to the efficient energy crop, but Panama has an estimated potential of 240,000 hectares. Brazilian expertise in sugar cane agronomy will be shared to strategize around utilizing this resource as efficiently as possible.

Finally, both countries will strengthen their cooperation on expanding the Panama Canal. Several Brazilian engineering firms are already involved in this project, and Lula has reiterated his commitment to uniting Central and South America around the common goal of succeeding in this vast project, that is expected to cost around US$5.2 billion.

Petrobras to focus once and for all on biofuels
State-owned oil company Petrobras has announced its growing focus on biofuels will finally make it a large, integrated and diversified energy company, instead of a mere oil and gas player. General Manager of the company's 'Finished Products' division, Edgard Manta, said Petrobras sees biofuels as its main strategic point of focus. The company will invest massively in three sectors over the coming years, to know ethanol, biodiesel and the innovative 'H-Bio' fuel. Large infrastructure works and the design of new logistical chains becomes a priority:
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(1) For ethanol, the strategic plan is to take minority participations in existing biofuel producers. The goal: to produce 3.5 billion liters exclusively for exports by 2011.

(2) When it comes to 'first generation' biodiesel, Petrobras wants to produce 850 million liters of the biofuel per year by 2011. A cooperation agreement with Brasil Ecodiesel, the largest producer with an installed capacity of 800 million liters (to come fully online in 2008), was signed as well. From next year onwards, Petrobras is mandated to blend 2% biodiesel in all fossil diesel. In January 2008 production of biodiesel begins at Petrobras' three first transesterification plants: one in Quixadá (Ceará state), one in Candeias (Bahia state) and a facility in Montes Claros (in Minas Gerais).

(3) Finally, and most importantly, Petrobras will pursue the large-scale production of its proprietary H-Bio. The process underlying this fuel was designed entirely by the Centro de Pesquisas da Petrobras (Cenpes) and was developed to introduce a renewable oil source in the diesel fuel production scheme taking advantage of existing petroleum refineries. The vegetable oil stream blended with mineral diesel fractions is hydroconverted in Hydrotreating Units (HDT), which are mainly used for diesel sulphur content reduction and quality improvement in petroleum refineries. Four Petrobras refineries have already been adapted to produce H-Bio, which will reduce the company's fossil diesel imports by 25%, signifying saving of around US$240 million per year. The facilities have a combined biofuel capacity of 256 million liters per year.

Biofuel infrastructures: waterways and pipelines
Via its subsidiary BR Distribuidora, which has made biofuel exports possible, Petrobras is further investing in infrastructures to get liquid renewable fuels to market. First of all, BR Distribuidora will build yet another dedicated ethanol pipeline, this time one of around 900 kilometres. The 'alcoolduto' will relay Campo Grande, the capital of the central-western state of Mato Grosso do Sul to the Atlantic port of Paranaguá (in the state of Parana).

Interestingly, the company is beginning to have a serious look at creating waterway infrastructures to transport biofuels. Inland transport over water can in principle be very efficient and cost-effective, but requires good infrastructures and robust maintenance of waterways. BR Distribuidora is going to develop such infrastructures aimed at exporting biofuels from the main sugar cane growing state of São Paulo to the Terminal Marítimo de Ilha D’água (in Rio de Janeiro State) and to the terminal of São Sebastião (São Paulo state).

Petrobras to cooperate with other countries
President Lula has repeatedly stressed his country's willingness to help other countries in the South to kickstart a biofuels industry. Brazil offers technical and scientific expertise and does so via two highly successful state-owned companies: EMBRAPA and Petrobras. The first is the world's leading research center on tropical agronomy, whereas the latter is becoming one of the most competitive non-Western energy companies.

Last year, Petrobras signed a cooperation agreement with Japan which resulted in the formation of Brazil-Japan Ethanol Inc., a joint venture with Japan Alcohol Trading, aimed at exporting bioethanol to the East Asian country. The first shipment has already been delivered. Likewise, the company Mitsui & Co. is cooperating with Brazil to grow energy crops and produce liquid biofuels for exports to Japan. Petrobras has minority shares in both companies that have the sole aim of producing for exports.

Edgard Manta stresses that this approach has the advantage that "this way, all the companies associated with Petrobras are made to comply with our strong social, environmental and labor norms".

Manta then broadened the perspective and said Petrobras will cooperate internationally with countries in Africa and Latin America - in particular with Venezuela, Nigeria and South Africa.

In Venezuela tetraethyl lead in gasoline will be replaced by Brazilian ethanol (an E8 blend). Six cargoes have so far been exported, a total of 150 million liters. Petrobras is negotiating with the government of Venezuela and its state-run oil company PDVSA with the aim of renewing a long term supply contract.

In Africa, from 2008 onwards, the Brazilian oil major will promote an expansion in Nigeria. The idea is to introduce an E10 into the local market. A first shipment of biofuel of around 200 million liters is being negotiated with Petrobras' Nigerian counter-part NNPC.

(President Lula recently talked with 22 African diplomats about ethanol and together with Petrobras and other companies announced the establishment of an "Agrocity" near Lagos, Nigeria, as a starting point to build a pan-African biofuel industry. We will be reporting on this development soon.)

According to Manta, other bilateral agreements and joint ventures have been or are being created with governments and companies of Angola, South Africa, Portugal, Spain, South Korea and Mexico and Paraguay.

Mechanisation and employment
The Agencia Estado reports today that the rapid mechanisation of the sugar cane industry is creating new dilemmas for workers. On the one hand, these low and unskilled laborers come from very poor backgrounds and are not able to find jobs other than doing the backbreaking work of cutting sugar cane. But on the other hand, if they lose their employment on the plantations due to mechanisation, they end up in a truly problematic situation and are often forced to join the growing numbers of people living in the mega-slums of Brazil's large cities.

As is well known, as a result of new legislation and enforcement, the sugar cane sector has had to better the fate of these workers. But progress is slow and abuses are still rampant. Despite this fact, hundreds of thousands of poor workers prefer to harvest cane instead of migrating to the cities where their chances of finding work are limited. Tragically, the sugar sector's increasing mechanisation may now force them towards the latter path anyways.

This trend is worrying São Paulo state's Secretary of Labor Guilherme Afif who wants to study the effect of modernisation and mechanisation on the labor market in depth. To do so, he will sign an agreement tomorrow with the SEAD Foundation to launch a state-wide survey that will be carried out over the coming 4 months.

Afif intends to use the results of the analysis to create a program aimed at facilitating the reintegration of these workers into other markets by training them into a specific niche - ideally, they will be employed in the ethanol industry. The program is seen as urgent and will be implemented in the 645 municipalities of the State.

Afif thinks that the new modernisation cycle of the sugar cane industry may ultimately lead to unemployment for 700,000 workers. "São Paulo may become a social war zone because of biofuels", he said.

The Secretary is also talking with the Federal Minister of Social welfare, Carlos Lupi. According to Afif, Lupi showed interest to collaborate and to free federal funds to support the São Paulo program aimed at providing new qualifications to man power that was laid off. First, however, the results of the survey will have to be awaited.

More information:
Reuters: Vietnam to sign pact with Brazil for ethanol fuel - May 27, 2007.

Agência EFE: Brasil oferece ao Panamá cooperação em etanol e obras do Canal - May 25, 2007.

Ultimo Segundo: Presidente do Panamá reitera que vai promover produção de etanol em seu país - May 26, 2007.

Diário de Nordeste: Lula assina seis acordos de cooperação com o Panamá - May 25, 2007.

ANSA: Brasil e Panamá firmam acordos de biocombustíveis - May 25, 2007.

Diário Comércio, Indústria e Serviços: Petrobras foca os aportes em biocombustível - May 28, 2007.

Reuters Brasil: Petrobras busca parceiro para 2o alcoolduto da companhia - May 25, 2007.

A Tarde Online: SP quer qualificar mão-de-obra em lavoura de etanol - May 27, 2007.

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E-cane Fuel to invest US$150 million in ethanol plant in the Philippines

The Philippines are rapidly becoming an attractive investment hub for the South East and East Asian renewable fuel market. The country's recent biofuel legislation in combination with an active effort to attract foreign direct investment is drawing in companies from China, Japan, the EU and the US. The island state's suitable agro-climatic conditions and its availability of land and labor plays a key role, as does its central geographical position in the region.

US firm E-Cane Fuel Corp. is the latest in a series of companies to enter the country's biofuels sector. The company announced it will invest €111/US$150 million to put up a fully integrated ethanol processing facility in Central Luzon.

E-Cane Fuel chairman and chief executive Jean-Pierre Monclin told reporters the ethanol facility will utilize production from 10 hectares to 20 hectares of sugar cane plantations in Tarlac, Pampanga and Nueva Ecija. Sugarcane farmers in the areas have leased their lands to the company for ethanol feedstock production. The lease agreement covers 25 years, with assurance of annual increases in land rent.

“The plant will be vertically integrated. This means we will be producing 100 percent new feedstock and process them,” Monclin said. He said the investment would be the company’s biggest in the biofuel industry and the firm’s first investment in Asia. E-Cane has bioethanol-related operations in Latin America and Columbia.

The plant will utilize Indian-based technology serviced by Praj, which has some major projects in Europe and Brazil. Construction started six months ago and is expected to go on full commercial operation by 2009. The ethanol plant, which will have a capacity of 150 million liters (39.6 million gallons), will process sugarcane as a primary feedstock.

Monclin said the company would sell ethanol primarily to the domestic market with a portion to be exported to Japan and Korea. He said the firm expected the plant to be fully controlled by Filipino workforce in three years time. E-cane Fuel currently employs about 100 Filipinos:
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Monclin also expressed optimism on the prospects of the country’s biofuels industry.

“I am very optimistic and interested in this project. One, it utilizes clean technology that will help the environment and second, it has social program that helps uplift the lives of the farmers,” he said.

There are already a number of companies that have expressed interest in ethanol projects spurred by the passage of the Philippines' BioFuels Law of 2007. The law mandates an initial 5 percent ethanol blend for gasoline two years after its implementation.

The ethanol facility of Bronzeoak Philippines in San Carlos, Negros Occidental will come online by next year. The facility will produce 100,000 liters of bioethanol a day.

Eastern Petroleum Corp. teamed up with Guanxi Group of China for an ethanol project using cassava as feedstock while PNOC-Alternative Fuels Corp. is planning an ethanol plant project worth US$ 1.3 billion (on Chinese investments, see here, on PNOC's biofuel activities, here).

Ethanol, as a gasoline additive, is expected to spur capital investment, job creation, and economic development in the country, especially in rural areas.

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