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    Major European bank BNP Paribas will launch an investment company called Agrinvest this month to tap into the increased global demand for biofuels and rising consumption in Asia and emerging Europe. CityWire - June 8, 2007.

    Malaysian particleboard maker HeveaBoard Bhd expects to save some 12 million ringgit (€2.6/US$3.4 million) a year on fuel as its second plant is set to utilise biomass energy instead of fossil fuel. This would help improve operating margins, group managing director Tenson Yoong Tein Seng said. HeveaBoard, which commissioned the second plant last October, expects capacity utilisation to reach 70% by end of this year. The Star - June 8, 2007.

    Japan's Itochu Corp will team up with Brazilian state-run oil firm Petroleo Brasileiro SA to produce sugar cane-based bioethanol for biofuels, with plans to start exporting the biofuel to Japan around 2010. Itochu and Petrobras will grow sugarcane as well as build five to seven refineries in the northeastern state of Pernambuco. The two aim to produce 270 million liters (71.3 million gallons) of bioethanol a year, and target sales of around 130 billion yen (€800million / US$1billion) from exports of the products to Japan. Forbes - June 8, 2007.

    Italian refining group Saras is building one of Spain's largest flexible biodiesel plants. The 200,000 ton per year factory in Cartagena can handle a variety of vegetable oils. The plant is due to start up in 2008 and will rely on European as well as imported feedstocks such as palm oil. Reuters - June 7, 2007.

    The University of New Hampshire's Biodiesel Group is to test a fully automated process to convert waste vegetable oil into biodiesel. It has partnered with MPB Bioenergy, whose small-scale processor will be used in the trials. UNH Biodiesel Group - June 7, 2007.

    According to the Barbados Agricultural Management Company (BAMC), the Caribbean island state has a large enough potential to meet both its domestic ethanol needs (E10) and to export to international markets. BAMC is working with state actors to develop an entirely green biofuel production process based on bagasse and biomass. The Barbados Advocate - June 6, 2007.

    Energea, BioDiesel International and the Christof Group - three biodiesel producers from Austria - are negotiating with a number of Indonesian agribusiness companies to cooperate on biodiesel production, Austrian Commercial Counselor Raymund Gradt says. The three Austrian companies are leading technology solution providers for biodiesel production and currently produce a total of 440,000 tons of biodiesel per annum in Austria, more than half of their country’s annual demand of around 700,000-800,000 tons. In order to meet EU targets, they want to produce biodiesel abroad, where feedstocks and production is more competitive. BBJ - June 6, 2007.

    China will develop 200 million mu (13.3 million hectares) of forests by 2020 in order to supply the raw materials necessary for producing 6 million tons of biodiesel and biomass per year, state media reported today. InterFax China - June 6, 2007.

    British Petroleum is planning a biofuel production project in Indonesia. The plan is at an early stage, but will involve the establishment of an ethanol or biodiesel plant based on sugarcane or jatropha. The company is currently in talks with state-owned plantation and trading firm Rajawali Nusantara Indonesia (RNI) as its potential local partner for the project. Antara - June 6, 2007.

    A pilot project to produce biodiesel from used domestic vegetable oil is underway at the Canary Technological Institute in Gran Canaria. Marta Rodrigo, the woman heading up the team, said the project is part of the EU-wide Eramac scheme to encourage energy saving and the use of renewable energy. Tenerife News - June 6, 2007.

    Royal Dutch Shell Plc is expanding its fuel distribution infrastructure in Thailand by buying local petrol stations. The company will continue to provide premium petrol until market demand for gasohol (an petrol-ethanol mixture) climbs to 70-90%, which will prove customers are willing to switch to the biofuel. "What we focus on now is proving that our biofuel production technology is very friendly to engines", a company spokesman said. Bangkok Post - June 5, 2007.

    Abraaj, a Dubai-based firm, has bought the company Egyptian Fertilizers in order to benefit from rising demand for crops used to make biofuels. The Abraaj acquisition of all the shares of Egyptian Fertilizers values the company based in Suez at US$1.41 billion. Egyptian Fertilizers produces about 1.25 million tons a year of urea, a nitrogen-rich crystal used to enrich soils. The company plans to expand its production capacity by as much as 20 percent in the next two years on the expected global growth in biofuel production. International Herald Tribune - June 4, 2007.

    China and the US will soon sign a biofuel cooperation agreement involving second-generation fuels, a senior government official said. Ma Kai, director of the National Development and Reform Commission, said at a media briefing that vice premier Wu Yi discussed the pact with US Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman and other US officials during the strategic economic dialogue last month. Forbes - June 4, 2007.

    German biogas company Schmack Biogas AG reports a 372% increase in revenue for the first quarter of the year, demonstrating its fast growth. Part of it is derived from takeovers. Solarserver [*German] - June 3, 2007.

    Anglo-Dutch oil giant Royal Dutch Shell PLC has suspended the export of 150,000 barrels per day of crude oil because of community unrest in southern Nigeria, a company spokesman said. Villagers from K-Dere in the restive Ogoniland had stormed the facility that feeds the Bonny export terminal, disrupting supply of crude. It was the second seizure in two weeks. Shell reported on May 15 that protesters occupied the same facility, causing a daily output loss of 170,000 barrels. Rigzone - June 2, 2007.

    Heathrow Airport has won approval to plan for the construction of a new 'green terminal', the buildings of which will be powered, heated and cooled by biomass. The new terminal, Heathrow East, should be completed in time for the 2012 London Olympics. The new buildings form part of operator BAA's £6.2bn 10-year investment programme to upgrade Heathrow. Transport Briefing - June 1, 2007.

    A new algae-biofuel company called LiveFuels Inc. secures US$10 million in series A financing. LiveFuels is a privately-backed company working towards the goal of creating commercially competitive biocrude oil from algae by 2010. PRNewswire - June 1, 2007.

    Covanta Holding Corp., a developer and operator of large-scale renewable energy projects, has agreed to purchase two biomass energy facilities and a biomass energy fuel management business from The AES Corp. According to the companies, the facilities are located in California's Central Valley and will add 75 MW to Covanta's portfolio of renewable energy plants. Alternative Energy Retailer - May 31, 2007.

    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.

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Friday, June 08, 2007

Scientists study impacts of industrial logging in Central Africa

Though the dense humid forests of Central Africa have been regarded as among the most pristine on Earth, the expansion of industrial logging and the accompanying proliferation of road density are threatening the future of this important ecosystem. Moreover, once a rainforest zone is 'opened up' by loggers, agribusinesses and small farmers often move in to give it the final blow.

Woods Hole Research Center scientists are now reporting how they used satellite imagery taken from 1976 to 2003 to study the development of industrial logging and road density in Central Africa so that scientists, conservation agencies and other organizations can better understand the trends and implications of such expansion. The work is profiled in the current issue of Science.

According to Nadine Laporte, an associate scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center and lead author of the work, "It has never been timelier to monitor forest degradation in Central Africa because there is still an opportunity to make a significant difference in reducing the amount of deforestation. The Democratic Republic of Congo contains most of the remaining forest and is the last frontier for logging expansion in Africa."

The Central-African forests are the second largest expanse of rainforest on the planet, after the Amazon. Countries that host this vast ecosystem must be encouraged to preserve it in the name of biodiversity, but also to limit greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation. Mechanisms to help conservation efforts by compensating forest-rich nations ('compensated reduction') are being developed. Certainly in the context of biofuels such mechanisms must be implemented urgently. There is enough potential land in Central-Africa to produce biofuel feedstocks without cutting down trees (earlier post), but if the countries involved are not compensated for keeping their forests intact, the risk exists that vast swathes of rainforest are turned into lucrative biofuel plantations. Monitoring the impact of logging operations and screening deforestation rates is of prime importance for such mechanisms to succeed. The Woods Hole Research Center is actively contributing to the development of 'avoided deforestation' schemes.

The researchers mapped nearly 52,000 km of logging roads within the forested region, which includes Cameroon, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Republic of Congo, and Democratic Republic of Congo (map, click to enlarge). Prior to this work, there were few reliable data sets available to monitor both legal and illegal logging:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

This study provides the first synoptic view of industrial logging in Central Africa, enabling conservation agencies, government agencies, scientists, industry officials, and others to better gauge how the expansion of logging is impacting the forest and its inhabitants, and how better planning might mitigate damage.

Jared Stabach, a research assistant at the Center and second author, comments, "Roads provide access, and this research provides clear evidence that the rainforests of Central Africa are not as remote as they once were - a bad thing for many of the species that call it home."

Monitoring the expansion of logging in last dense humid forest of Central Africa is not only important for biodiversity conservation but also for climatic change. Industrial logging in Central Africa is the most extensive land use with more than 30 percent of the forest under logging concession and the clearing of these forests could significantly increase carbon emissions.

Co-author Scott Goetz, a senior scientist at the Center, notes that the combination of increasing population, economic development and climatic change means that "Africa is poised for irreversible change, so it is important to help African countries with tools to monitor what is happening to their forests."

Dr. Laporte adds, "This work helps to provide key data to local scientists, allowing them the tools needed to work with policy makers to help manage their forests, and in the process reduce biodiversity loss and carbon emissions from deforestation."

Dr. Laporte is a biologist whose research centers on the applications of satellite imagery to tropical forest ecosystems, including vegetation mapping, land-use change, and deforestation causes and consequences. She has been involved in numerous environmental projects in Africa over the past 20 years, working with in-country scientists, foresters, and international conservation organizations to develop integrated forest monitoring systems and promote forest conservation. She received her doctorate in tropical biogeography from l'Université Paul Sabatier in Toulouse, France.

Mr. Stabach works in the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing Laboratory on the Center's Africa program, monitoring changes and threats to the rainforests and threatened species throughout the Central Africa region. His master's research focused on the use of remote sensing technologies to identify Matschie's tree kangaroo habitat in Papua New Guinea. He received his B.S. from Providence College and his M.S. from the University of Rhode Island.

Dr. Goetz works on the application of satellite imagery to analyses of environmental change, including monitoring and modeling links between land use change, forest productivity, biodiversity, climate, and human health. Before joining the Center, he was on the faculty at the University of Maryland for seven years, where he maintains an adjunct associate professor appointment, and was a research scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Maryland.

Image: Logging concessions and road distribution in Central Africa: Cameroon (1), Central African Republic (2), Equatorial Guinea (3), Gabon (4), Republic of Congo (5), Democratic Republic of Congo (6). Courtesy: Woods Hole Research Center.

More information:
Nadine T. Laporte, Jared A. Stabach, Robert Grosch, Tiffany S. Lin, Scott J. Goetz, "Expansion of Industrial Logging in Central Africa" - Science, 8 June 2007: Vol. 316. no. 5830, p. 1451, DOI: 10.1126/science.1141057

Woods Hole Research Center: Woods Hole Research Center Partnering with The Goldman Sachs Center for Environmental Markets to Develop Project on the Valuation of Avoided Deforestation - Sept. 22, 2006.

Article continues

Researchers produce ethanol from syngas in carbon nanotubes

Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are increasingly recognized as promising materials for catalysis, either as catalysts themselves, as catalyst additives or as catalyst supports. Researchers in China now have used CNTs loaded with rhodium (Rh) nanoparticles as reactors to convert a gas mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen into ethanol. The gas, commonly known as syngas, can be obtained from the gasification of biomass. When liquefied, 'synthetic biofuels' are the result. The most common technique used to convert syngas into liquids (GTL) is the Fischer-Tropsch process. But now CNTs may offer another pathway.

The Chinese breakthrough appears to be the first example where the activity and selectivity of a metal-catalyzed gas-phase reaction benefits significantly from proceeding inside a nanosized CNT reaction vessel. Dr. Xinhe Bao, professor at the State Key Laboratory of Catalysis at the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and head of the institute's Nano and Interfacial Catalysis Group, and Dr. Xiulian Pan, published their findings [abstrac] in Nature Materials.

CNTs distinguish themselves from other carbon materials, such as activated carbon and carbon nanofibers, in that they have well graphitized graphene with semiconducting or metallic characteristics and a tubular morphology with well defined dimensions. Earlier theoretical studies have shown that the electron density is shifted from the inside to the outside of CNT channels, and that inside gas molecules exhibit a binding energy different from those outside of the nanotubes:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

"We were curious about what would happen if we combined these graphene tubes with metal nanoparticles, which have interesting redox and catalytic properties by themselves" Dr. Xinhe Bao told NanoWerk. "We previously found that the redox properties of iron and iron oxide particles are tunable via encapsulation within CNTs."

Bao found that, for instance, iron oxide particles within 4-8 nm wide nanotubes are auto-reduced at 600 degrees Celsius while the particles located on the outer surface of the nanotubes need 800 degrees Celsius. Furthermore, the auto-reduction temperature of inside particles decreases with the nanotube diameter. On the other hand, the oxidation of metallic iron nanoparticles is retarded inside nanotubes compared to those particles located on the outer surface of nanotubes. Both experiments indicate the modification of the redox properties of these particles inside CNTs and the stabilization of metallic Fe inside nanotubes.

The researchers suspected that the modification of the redox properties of metal particles inside CNTs is a general characteristic and that this could be exploited in catalysis.

Therefore, they introduced a promoted RhMn catalyst for syngas conversion into carbon nanotube channels. Syngas is a 1:2 mixture of CO and H2. This reaction is known to be very sensitive to the redox states of Rh and Mn. Oxygenates containing two carbon atoms such as ethanol, acetyldehyde and acetic acid were produced, and surprisingly, the yield over the CNT-encapsulated catalyst was extraordinarily high, clearly exceeding that of the very good silica-supported catalyst. Furthermore, catalysts with metal particles confined inside CNTs were also significantly more active than those with the metal particles dispersed on the outer surface of the nanotubes, even though the latter are more easily accessible.

The results of the Chinese scientists suggest a host-guest interaction between the confined metal particles and CNTs, which is different from that on the outside of the nanotubes. Other effects may also play a role, like the stringent size restriction of metal particles inside CNTs and the high affinity of hydrogen to the inner surfaces of opened CNTs as exemplified in their extraordinary hydrogen adsorption capacity. Pan says that she believes that other conversions could benefit in a similar way from taking place inside CNTs, in particular if they involve hydrogen. "We also anticipate that the study of the host-guest interaction within CNTs will attract greater attention as a result."

Bao points out that experimental study of the redox properties and the electronic host-guest interaction in these systems is still a challenge and might require refined characterization techniques. "Other effects may also play a role in these catalysts" he says, "like the stronger size restriction of metal particles inside CNTs and the high affinity of hydrogen to the inner surfaces of opened CNTs. The understanding and distinction between these contributions needs to be advanced by further experimental and theoretical studies. Besides, we are currently looking at new experimental characterization techniques which provide deeper insight into the nature of these confined systems."

Pan notes that, apart from the still considerable challenge of cost efficient, large-scale production of CNTs with precise diameter and chirality control, a further challenge pertaining to catalysis is the homogeneous dispersion of metal nanoparticles within the CNT channels, since this can strongly influences the activity of these catalysts.

Apart from applications in catalysis, such CNT encapsulates might also be interesting for composite materials which require a modulation of the electronic state, such as magnetic sensor or storage materials.

Image: Carbon nanotubes for ethanol production. Schematic diagram showing ethanol production from syngas inside Rh-loaded carbon nanotubes.The black spheres denote carbon atoms, which form the graphene layers of the carbon nanotubes. The streams in light orange and green entering the nanotubes indicate the gas mixture of CO and H2, respectively. The three stacks of small spheres in rose, blue, green and red inside the tubes represent catalyst particles that may comprise more than one component. The streams in light cyan tailing behind the catalyst particles along the axis of the nanotubes represent ethanol. Courtesy: NanoWerk / Nature Publishing Group.

More information:

Xiulian Pan, Zhongli Fan, Wei Chen, Yunjie Ding, Hongyuan Luo & Xinhe Bao, "Enhanced ethanol production inside carbon-nanotube reactors containing catalytic particles", Nature Materials, published online: 21 May 2007, doi:10.1038/nmat1916.

Wei Chen, Xiulian Pan, and Xinhe Bao, "Tuning of Redox Properties of Iron and Iron Oxides via Encapsulation within Carbon Nanotubes", J. Am. Chem. Soc.; 2007; 129(23) pp 7421 - 7426; (Article) DOI: 10.1021/ja0713072

NanoWerk: Ethanol production inside carbon nanotubes - June 8, 2007.

Article continues

Punjab invests heavily in biomass to feed growing energy needs

Per capita energy consumption in the state of Punjab, India's bread basket and symbol of the Green Revolution (earlier post), is the highest on the sub-continent at 972kwh/year (nearly thrice the national average). Power shortages running as high as 20% with peak hour shortages at 26% are becoming a major concern.

To counter this, the state has set a target to add another 1,000MW of power through renewable energy resources by 2012, notably biomass. To achieve the goal, the sector has attracted investments worth 9 billion rupiah (€165/US$220 million) by private enterprises. Added to this is a loan by the Japan Bank of International Cooperation worth 8 billion rupiah (€148/US$196 million) which the state government will use for adding an extra 200MW of bioenergy. Punjab has a current installed capacity of 6,200MW.

M. P. S. Bajwa, chairman of the Punjab Energy Development Agency (PEDA), says the state has a huge potential for the production of renewable energy from biomass and agro-residues through co-generation. Even though Punjab forms less than 1.5% of India's territory, it provides the country with two thirds of all grain crops. The state's crops yield vast amounts of field-based and process-based biomass residues (agricultural production data can be found here, in combination with residue-to-product ratios for different crops, here). In order to tap this vast potential, farmer-to-farmer bioenergy cooperatives have been created, and the Punjabi state government now wants to introduce a biomass based energy project in each tehsil (county).

Biomass most competitive
According to PEDA, the biomass initiative ideally requires an investment of 30 to 50 million rupiah (€551,000 - 918,000 / US$ 736,000 - 1.22 million) per installed MW, should be multifuel and can be set up on 10-20 acres of land. Compared to this a hydroelectric project on average costs around 80 to 100 million rupiah (€1.47 - 1.83 / US$ 1.96 - 2.45 million) per MW, whereas a solar energy plant costs around 10 times as much as biomass cogeneration:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The Punjab State Electricity Board has been requested to sign Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) for renewable energy power projects with private developers within a month of submission of documents. The time for tariff approval would also be reduced. "The state government wants to harness the co-generation and biomass potential of 542 mw by 2012. Government is also providing financial incentives for promoting power projects in the state NRSE policy 2006," Bajwa added.

Diversification of energy supplies is key to Pujab's energy security. For this reason, PEDA has so far commissioned 8 mini hydel projects with a combined capacity of 10 MW, whereas another 55 hydel sites have already been allotted to the private developers for setting up hydro projects on Built Operated Owned (BOO) basis. Around 14 projects with a capacity of 13.65MW have been completed and commissioned through private sector participation worth around 1 billion rupiah (€18/24.6 million).

When it comes to biomass power, five projects with a total capacity of 30MW have so far been completed and commissioned through private sector, whereas 114MW of co-generation projects are under execution in the state. In addition, biomass projects on a BOO basis and with a combined capacity of 112MW have also been allocated to private developers. This puts the total amount of investments in the sector at 9 billion rupiah (€165/US$220 million).

More information:

Biopact: Farmer-to-farmer biomass power in Punjab - December 20, 2006

Biopact: Punjab's bioenergy potential from agricultural waste estimated at 1000MW; major investments being made - December 11, 2006

Biopact: Crop residues: how much biomass energy is out there? - July 14, 2006

The Financial Express: Punjab's renewable energy to get Rs 900 cr - June 6, 2007

Punjab Government: Punjab Agriculture Sector Statistics.

FAO, Auke Koopmans and Jaap Koppejan: "Agricultural and forest residues - generation, utilization and availability" [*.pdf], Paper presented at the Regional Consultation on Modern Applications of Biomass Energy, 6-10 January 1997, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, FAO, 1998, - see Annex II.

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Energy Trust of Oregon to invest US$5 million into biomass cogeneration

The Energy Trust of Oregon, a nonprofit organization dedicated to changing how Oregonians use energy by promoting energy efficiency and clean renewable energy, announced [*.pdf] it will invest up to US$5 million in a biomass cogeneration project that will generate enough electricity to serve over 12,000 homes with continuous renewable electricity.

The 15.8-megawatt project will be owned by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and their financial partner. The project, which will cost US$46 million to build, will also provide steam for Warm Springs Forest Products Industries, the Tribes’ wood products enterprise. By using clean wood fuel from forest fuels reduction and forest restoration projects in Central Oregon, saw mill residuals and other clean materials, the project will result in healthier forests.
“This is one of the largest incentives yet paid by Energy Trust. Biomass is an extremely attractive renewable resource, locally and nationally. It’s a constant resource that provides energy with multiple environmental and economic benefits.” - Adam Serchuk, biomass program director for Energy Trust.
According to Serchuk, the project is one of the first Oregon projects to rely primarily on forest material gathered as part of forest stewardship activities. It will be a good test to see how clean energy generation and wildfire prevention can work together to benefit the state, he added.

Advantages of biomass
As a renewable fuel, biomass has some distinct properties. Unlike solar or wind resources, biomass can deliver power to the power grid 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In addition, biomass and its related forest restoration activities support a healthy hydropower system by slowing snowmelt runoff and reducing sediments in runoff flows. Using forest fuels for biomass also means that they aren’t being burned off in an open fire or allowed to decompose in the forest, which improves air quality and reduces the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere.

The Warm Springs Reservation covers 650,000 acres, about half of which is forest. Catastrophic wild fires over the past several years have caused significant damage to these forestlands. An estimated 2,000 acres of tribal lands and 8,000 acres of adjoining federal and private lands will be used for biomass recovery each year. Woody biomass material from other forest fuels reduction projects will also be used at the site:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The developer and owner of the project is Warm Springs Biomass LLC, an organization formed with businesses owned by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, plus a third-party investor. The project is expected to operating by December 31, 2008, under a 20-year agreement with Energy Trust. Aequitas Capital Management, Inc., financial advisor for the project, has assisted with all principal project agreements, including taking a critical role in the power sales agreement, construction agreement, and Energy Trust negotiations. Aequitas also had a lead role in arranging for funding to construct and operate the facility. The project is applying for an Oregon Business Energy Tax Credit equal to 35 percent of eligible project costs.

"The biomass power generation project is a sustainable business creating the benefits of employment, forest restoration and renewable energy. Business managers for the Confederated Tribes will continue to develop opportunities that contribute to the future prosperity of the Tribes and the environment,” said Jim Manion, Warm Springs Power and Water Enterprises.

The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs expects the biomass project to create 60 to 70 living wage jobs and generate self-sustaining revenues that can be used to fund tribal government services. In addition, the facility provides a market-based solution to restore tribal forestlands and reduce wildfire risks.

“The Warm Springs project moving forward is the second biomass project announced this year,” said David Van’t Hof, sustainability advisor to Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski. “It shows the great opportunity for economic growth and job creation presented by the governor’s aggressive renewable energy policies.”

“This project establishes a benchmark model for the development of new biomass facilities in Oregon and for tribal-owned renewable energy projects in general,” said Tom Sidley, senior managing director, Aequitas Capital. “We were honored to apply our energy practice experience to assist a very motivated and competent development team from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.”

Image: biomass wood chips, courtesy of the Energy Trust of Oregon.

Article continues

G8 reaches compromise on climate change

The leading industrialised nations (G8) aim to at least halve global CO2 emissions by 2050. The Heads of State and Government agreed at Heiligendamm to achieve this goal together as part of a UN process. The big emerging economies are also to be incorporated in the process: "We commit to achieving these goals and invite the major emerging economies [in particular China and India] to join us in this endeavour," states the Summit Declaration [*.pdf] of 7 June 2007. The agreement is not legally binding.

Environmental NGOs and civil society organisations have dismissed the compromise as 'weak', whereas others were surprised to see a deal at all.

For her part, German Chancellor and G8 President Angela Merkel was convinced and visibly pleased that this was "the most important decision for the coming two years." Many participants had moved their positions quite considerably. The agreement that binding goals on reducing emissions were necessary was "an important signal", said Merkel.

The resolutions adopted by the EU, Japan and Canada form the basis of the agreement reached on climate protection at Heiligendamm. The approach suggested by the United States was added to this, namely of incorporating the biggest greenhouse gas emitters outside the United States, especially China and India.

The environment ministers of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change can now negotiate details of how these goals regarding global reductions are to be achieved. A post-Kyoto Protocol regulation is to be agreed during the Global Climate Change Conference to be held there. The Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. Up until now it was not clear what this was to be based on. Now the successor agreement is to be adopted by 2009 and to contribute to the agreed UN process:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

In parallel to the UN process, groups of countries have the possibility of reaching additional agreements on how the common goal is to be achieved. In future the G8 also want to use new financial tools to support climate protection projects in the developing countries, for example the proceeds from the auctioning off of emissions rights. This afternoon the Chancellor said she was pleased about the "coherent time-table".

Joint, but different responsibility
The G8 states it is clear that all countries bear joint responsibility for reducing greenhouse gases, but in different ways. The Chancellor highlighted the leading role the Group of 8 had to play. "The industrialised countries must take the first step", she emphasised.

Even though the agreement is not legally binding, Merkel was sure that "no-one can escape this declaration".

The Chancellor felt that it was a great success that all eight of the G8 countries now acknowledged the results of the UN's most recent climate report.

The so-called IPCC Report found that global warming is largely the result of human activity. Only by limiting CO2 emissions will it be possible to stop global warming. In order to avoid wide-ranging consequences, the international experts believe that it is absolutely essential that global warming be limited to 1.5 to 2.5°C.

The Group of 8 industrialised nations recognise the statements and goals in the IPPC Report. "Now we need to work together to get as many countries as possible across the world to undertake to do something," the German Chancellor said.

G8 and the emerging economies: Dialogue institutionalised
In the afternoon the G8 leaders had already agreed to offer the so-called emerging economies a new form of regular dialogue. The so-called outreach countries - Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa - will be taking part in the G8 discussions on Friday.

This new co-operation ("Heiligendamm Process") is to send a clear signal for allowing mutual freedom of investment under comparable conditions. Just like the G8 process, this process is also to set the course for giving globalisation a social face.

The planned topics for the Heiligendamm Process are also to be "innovation" and "technology co-operations". The G8 countries are to share their know-how with the emerging economies especially when it comes to energy efficiency. At the same time, agreement is to be reached on more effective international property rights: protection against replicated machines, copied brand products and counterfeit medications.

The topics to be addressed in this dialogue show how closely the issues discussed at this summit are linked to the interests of people across the world: climate protection and energy efficiency on the one hand, and the technology required for that and effective property rights for that technology on the other. Globalisation is here to stay. Now it needs to be actively shaped at the political level. "The G8 is a valuable body in which to do that," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said two weeks ago in a policy statement. The first conference day proved her right.

Environmental NGOs immediately criticised the G8 summit-deal as being "weak" and "lacking substance and political will". Friends of the Earth deplores that the US and Russia did not make a non-binding pledge to cut the CO2 emission by at least half by 2050. "Collectively, the G8 nations, which represent just 13% of the world's population, are responsible for around 43% of the world's greenhouse-gas emissions," the NGO points out.

The World Future Council said that it would have liked to see "an immediate binding resolution" and accused the G8 countries of "simply passing the buck on to the next Conference on Climate Change in Bali later this year".

More information:
G8 Summit, Heilgendamm: Breakthrough on climate protection - June 7, 2007.

G8 Summit, Heiligendamm: Summit Declaration: Growth and responsibility in the world economy - [*.pdf], June 7, 2007.

Friends of the Earth International: Weak G-8 Climate ‘Deal’ Lacks Substance - June 7, 2007.

World Future Council: G8 Need to Act Immediately on Climate Change - Declaration on Climate Change too Weak: World Leaders Merely Pass the Buck to the Next Climate Conference - June 7, 2007.

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The bioeconomy at work: study shows potatoes make good bioplastics

A report by the University of Maine's Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center says the state's potato industry could benefit by becoming a producer of bioplastics, which are made from renewable and carbon-neutral plant starch rather than crude oil and petroleum products.

The research report titled Potatoes to Plastic [*.pdf] examined the resource and economic viability of Maine potatoes as a source for polylactic acid (PLA) to support InterfaceFABRIC’s manufacturing requirements for use in their bio-based fabrics for commercial interiors. As part of this study, the following data was reviewed:
  • the amount of acres currently harvested for potato production and the average number of acres in use;
  • the average harvest yield of potatoes;
  • the average price paid to growers per hundredweight (cwt) of potatoes;
  • the raw materials costs associated with collecting, transporting and pre-processing waste potatoes for production of starch in preparation for PLA production;
  • the availability of potato starch to meet the needs of InterfaceFABRIC;
  • the comparison of current cultivars of potato vs. one bred to use less fertilizer and fungicide (the Defender, a non-Genetically Modified Organism), both with approximately the same starch content.
The analysis of these data supports the conclusion that it is economically feasible for Maine potato growers to plant and harvest potatoes specifically for the purpose of providing a source of starch to manufacture PLA. It has also been determined that there would be little to no start-up costs to the potato growers themselves to provide potatoes for PLA using the potato cultivars (varieties) that are currently grown, in particular the Russet Burbank and/or Shepody potatoes (table, click to enlarge).

The planting, harvesting and pre-processing of these potatoes would be no different than what the growers are currently doing.

The analysis also shows that the cost of processing potatoes for PLA would be similar to that for a small capacity PLA facility that processes corn and the price which potato growers would receive for PLA potatoes would most likely be comparable to the average price paid to all growers for their potatoes. It also appears that the price of PLA from potatoes would be similar to that for PLA derived from corn.

Waste potatoes
The analysis further confirms that the amount of PLA needed by InterfaceFABRIC (13 million pounds per year) could, in principle, be supplied solely by waste potatoes, made up of those left in fields after harvesting, those not marketed or below grade, and potato waste from processing:
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However, the resources or economies to collect those wastes and waste potatoes and provide them to a PLA facility are not available at this time.

In conclusion, the research supports the concept of producing bio-based plastic feedstock from Maine potatoes. The potential to produce PLA from potato starch will not be limited by the ability of potato growers to provide a viable crop.

Furthermore, the cost to growers will not be prohibitive for such a project and the return will be similar to that for food stock potatoes.

Finally, no current table-ready or processing potatoes need to be taken out of the supply chain. An increase in the amount of acres planted and harvested can be implemented to provide the starch, and the potato varieties currently grown, in particular the Russet Burbank and/or Shepody potatoes, can be used as the source of starch for PLA manufacturing.

The next step is to conduct the research to determine the location and technical specifications for a PLA facility in Maine and examine the potential contribution of waste potatoes and processed starch to support a PLA facility and to examine the potential for new more cost effective and environmentally sustainable potato varieties which can be grown specifically for the PLA market.

European and Japanese manufacturers have already produced PLA-based bioplastics from potatoes.

The research was funded in part through Maine Technology Institute with contributions in kind by the Alliance for a Clean & Healthy Maine; Green Harvest Technologies; InterfaceFABRIC; Maine Potato Board; University of Maine; and University of Massachusetts, Lowell.

More information:
Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center: Potatoes to Plastic, [*.pdf / Executive summary here, *.pdf], June 2007.

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IEA Chief: biofuels not a threat to OPEC

Reacting to OPEC's recent statement on biofuels, Claude Mandil, the head of the International Energy Agency (IEA), told the Financial Times that, even in the worst-case scenario for the oil cartel, there would be a "dramatic" need for an increase in production by the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. "OPEC has nothing to fear. Even in the most optimistic scenarios, the contribution from biofuels would be very small," Mr Mandil said.

The oil producers’ group has become increasingly concerned about efforts in the US and the European Union to cut oil imports. Recently, Abdalla el-Badri, secretary-general of the oil cartel warned that booming biofuels activities may threaten investments in oil production and cause petroleum prices to "go through the roof". Analysts have suspected some tactical move behind the statement. OPEC ministers were however genuinely appalled by the State of the Union address by President George W. Bush in January, in which he said he wanted to "dramatically reduce our dependence on foreign oil."

Mr Mandil now says that even in the worst case for OPEC, in which consuming countries implemented policies to curb oil consumption, the IEA forecast that global oil demand in 2015 would rise by close to 10 million barrels a day, to 94.8 million bpd.

Demand for OPEC oil would be 38.8 million bpd in 2015, up from about 31 million bpd today, while biofuels would provide just 3 million bpd. If the oil-consuming countries did not put in place those further policies to encourage biofuel production and fuel efficiency, OPEC oil demand would be 42 million bpd.

OPEC's historic mistake
In the late 1970s western powers urged OPEC to increase urgently its production capacity as oil prices soared. But the same countries invested in energy alternatives, including nuclear power and natural gas, and energy-saving measures. The result, according to Frédéric Lasserre, of Société Générale in Paris, was that "OPEC invested huge amounts of resources in new oil production capacity, just to realise that when it came on line, in the mid 1980s, the demand had evaporated." OPEC is worried now about repeating this historic mistake:
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The cartel is committed to increase its oil production through more investment. But it has warned: "As the world needs a security of supply, we need a security of demand."

OPEC argues that it is misleading to think the world can wean itself off its need for oil. Abdalla el-Badri, Opec secretary-general, said: "We have no objection to changes in the energy mix but there is not a magic solution for oil."

OPEC’s initial investment of about US$120 billion (€89 billion, £60 billion) to 2012 is already on the way, but a second wave of about US$500 billion will depend on new demand trends. With consuming countries devoting more resources to nuclear power, biofuels, clean coal and energy efficiency, some observers say OPEC is right to be concerned.

"Climate warming will play a key role in the future discussion of western countries’ energy mix and, in there, oil is not well placed," said Mr Lasserre.

The potential of the current generation of biofuels is severely constrained by the competition with the food industry for feed stocks such as corn and wheat. "As the biofuel industry is set up today, there are pretty clear limits to it," said Andrew Shepherd-Barron, an alternative energy expert at KBC Peel Hunt.

"In about five years you have the possibility that we could make biofuels in a completely different way, from cellulosic ethanol or algae. But those technologies are unproven."

Even if there is a breakthrough to those 'second-generation' biofuels, Wood Mackenzie, the consultancy, estimates they might displace only up to 4 per cent of world oil demand in the next decade. But even a marginal change could have a powerful impact on the oil price.

On the other hand biofuels become competitive only when oil prices are very high. This also implies OPEC members are making unprecedented profits that become available for much needed investments.

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Food import bills reach a record high, biofuels partly to blame

Global food import bills are increasing, partly due to soaring demand for biofuels, according to FAO’s latest Food Outlook report. Global expenditures on imported foodstuffs look set to surpass US$400 billion in 2007, almost 5 percent above the record of the previous year.

The data once again immediately bring up the issue of global trade regimes and agricultural subsidies. Countries with a very large food production potential - like the DRCongo, Mozambique or Angola - are net food importers.

To the dismay of development economists and civil society organisations alike, farm subsidies in the EU and the US prevent investments in domestic food production in these countries. Their dependence on imported food means they are vulnerable to global price fluctuations that are beginning to be influenced by (subsidised) biofuels. For net exporters, the price increases are a blessing.

Over the long term, the FAO said earlier, biofuels can fundamentally boost food production and help alleviate poverty (earlier post).

The FAO's latest Food Outlook notes that rising prices of imported coarse grains and vegetable oils – the commodity groups that feature most heavily in biofuel production – account for the bulk of the increase. Import bills for these commodities are forecast to rise by as much as 13 percent from 2006, the report said.

Contrary to other reports, the report states that more expensive feed ingredients will lead to higher prices for meat and dairy products, raising expenditures on imports of those commodities. In several cases, such as for meat and rice, larger world purchases are likely to drive import bills up.

In the case of sugar, generally high and volatile prices could lead to smaller import volumes, which is likely to result in a drop in the cost of global sugar imports, the report said.

Record-high international freight rates have also affected the import value of all commodities, putting additional pressure on countries’ abilities to cover their food import bills:
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Poor pay more
Developing countries as a whole are anticipated to face a 9 percent increase in overall food import expenditures in 2007. The more economically vulnerable countries are forecast to be most affected, with total expenditures by low-income food-deficit (LIFDC) and least developed countries (LDCs) expected to rise by 10 percent from last year.

“The food import basket for the least developed countries in 2007 is expected to cost roughly 90 percent more than it did in 2000,” said FAO economist Adam Prakash. “This is in stark contrast to the 22 percent growth in developed country import bills over the same period.”

Production up, but so is demand
World cereal production in 2007 is forecast to reach 2125 million tonnes, up 6 percent from the reduced level in 2006 and higher than FAO’s previous forecast in May.

"The prospect of a strong recovery in global cereal production in 2007 is a positive development, but total supplies will still be barely adequate to meet the expected rise in demand, not only from the traditional food and feed sectors but in particular from the fast-growing biofuels industry," said Abdolreza Abbassian, one of the authors of the report. "This means prices for most cereals are likely to remain high in the coming year."

FAO’s tentative forecast for rice production this year stands at around 633 million tonnes, matching last year’s record level, but with production still running short of consumption. Global rice reserves are forecast to shrink and higher price levels are anticipated.

Global cassava production in 2007 could surpass last year’s record level, due largely to measures to increase utilization of the crop in the larger producing countries, especially for industrial usage, including ethanol production.


Oilseeds and meal prices have continued to rise, largely due to surging feed grain prices. Unusually high maize prices are dragging up soybean prices as the two commodities are competing in both the feed and energy markets. First forecasts for the 2007/08 marketing season suggest that the steady growth in global oilseed production could come to a halt, however, as maize cultivation is likely to expand at the expense of soybeans.

Meat and dairy
Increased consumer confidence, following a reduced incidence of animal disease outbreaks in the past year, should result in a recovery in meat demand in developing countries in 2007, the report said. Global meat exports are anticipated to increase by 3.8 percent as trade bans are gradually lifted and markets return to more normal patterns.

Poultry prices have recovered after declining by 18 percent in early 2006, mainly because of outbreaks of avian influenza. By March 2007, export prices in the United States and Brazil, which together supply 70 percent of global trade, increased by 20 percent and 14 percent, respectively, from their 2006 annual averages.

FAO’s meat price index has significantly recovered from a low in 2006 and, in March 2007, stood 7.6 percent higher than in March 2006. Moreover, rising feed prices are putting further upward pressure on meat prices, according to the report.

Prices of dairy products are currently at historically high levels. The FAO price index of traded dairy products has risen by 46 percent since November 2006. International prices for milk powders have increased most, as stocks in the European Union have disappeared.

The outlook for 2007 is for stronger growth in global milk supply, which may increase by 2.7 percent, sustained largely by expansion in those countries more responsive to international prices. Drought in Australia, suspension of milk powder exports by India, and Argentina’s export taxes are restraining export supply in the short term. However, EU dairy policy reform is changing the structure of international markets as its export market share declines, creating opportunities for emerging exporters, the report said.

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