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    Spanish engineering and energy company Abengoa says it had suspended bioethanol production at the biggest of its three Spanish plants because it was unprofitable. It cited high grain prices and uncertainty about the national market for ethanol. Earlier this year, the plant, located in Salamanca, ceased production for similar reasons. To Biopact this is yet another indication that biofuel production in the EU/US does not make sense and must be relocated to the Global South, where the biofuel can be produced competitively and sustainably, without relying on food crops. Reuters - September 24, 2007.

    The Midlands Consortium, comprised of the universities of Birmingham, Loughborough and Nottingham, is chosen to host Britain's new Energy Technologies Institute, a £1 billion national organisation which will aim to develop cleaner energies. University of Nottingham - September 21, 2007.

    The EGGER group, one of the leading European manufacturers of chipboard, MDF and OSB boards has begun work on installing a 50MW biomass boiler for its production site in Rion. The new furnace will recycle 60,000 tonnes of offcuts to be used in the new combined heat and power (CHP) station as an ecological fuel. The facility will reduce consumption of natural gas by 75%. IHB Network - September 21, 2007.

    Analysts fear that record oil prices will fuel general inflation in Kenya, particularly hitting the poorest hard. They call for the development of new policies and strategies to cope with sustained high oil prices. Such policies include alternative fuels like biofuels, conservation measures, and more investments in oil and gas exploration. The poor in Kenya are hit hardest by the sharp increase, because they spend most of their budget on fuel and transport. Furthermore, in oil intensive economies like Kenya, high oil prices push up prices for food and most other basic goods. All Africa - September 20, 2007.

    Finland's Metso Power has won an order to supply Kalmar Energi Värme AB with a biomass-fired power boiler for the company’s new combined heat and power plant in Kalmar on the east coast of Sweden. Start-up for the plant is scheduled for the end of 2009. The value of the order is approximately EUR 55 million. The power boiler (90 MWth) will utilize bubbling fluidized bed technology and will burn biomass replacing old district heating boilers and reducing the consumption of oil. The delivery will also include a flue gas condensing system to increase plant's district heat production. Metso Corporation - September 19, 2007.

    Jo-Carroll Energy announced today its plan to build an 80 megawatt, biomass-fueled, renewable energy center in Illinois. The US$ 140 million plant will be fueled by various types of renewable biomass, such as clean waste wood, corn stover and switchgrass. Jo-Carroll Energy - September 18, 2007.

    Beihai Gofar Marine Biological Industry Co Ltd, in China's southern region of Guangxi, plans to build a 100,000 tonne-per-year fuel ethanol plant using cassava as feedstock. The Shanghai-listed company plans to raise about 560 million yuan ($74.5 million) in a share placement to finance the project and boost its cash flow. Reuters - September 18, 2007.

    The oil-dependent island state of Fiji has requested US company Avalor Capital, LLC, to invest in biodiesel and ethanol. The Fiji government has urged the company to move its $250million 'Fiji Biofuels Project' forward at the earliest possible date. Fiji Live - September 18, 2007.

    The Bowen Group, one of Ireland's biggest construction groups has announced a strategic move into the biomass energy sector. It is planning a €25 million investment over the next five years to fund up to 100 projects that will create electricity from biomass. Its ambition is to install up to 135 megawatts of biomass-fuelled heat from local forestry sources, which is equal to 50 million litres or about €25m worth of imported oil. Irish Examiner - September 16, 2007.

    According to Dr Niphon Poapongsakorn, dean of Economics at Thammasat University in Thailand, cassava-based ethanol is competitive when oil is above $40 per barrel. Thailand is the world's largest producer and exporter of cassava for industrial use. Bangkok Post - September 14, 2007.

    German biogas and biodiesel developer BKN BioKraftstoff Nord AG has generated gross proceeds totaling €5.5 million as part of its capital increase from authorized capital. Ad Hoc News - September 13, 2007.

    NewGen Technologies, Inc. announced that it and Titan Global Holdings, Inc. completed a definitive Biofuels Supply Agreement which will become effective upon Titan’s acquisition of Appalachian Oil Company. Given APPCO’s current distribution of over 225 million gallons of fuel products per year, the initial expected ethanol supply to APPCO should exceed 1 million gallons a month. Charlotte dBusinessNews - September 13, 2007.

    Oil prices reach record highs as the U.S. Energy Information Agency releases a report that showed crude oil inventories fell by more than seven million barrels last week. The rise comes despite a decision by the international oil cartel, OPEC, to raise its output quota by 500,000 barrels. Reuters - September 12, 2007.

    OPEC decided today to increase the volume of crude supplied to the market by Member Countries (excluding Angola and Iraq) by 500,000 b/d, effective 1 November 2007. The decision comes after oil reached near record-highs and after Saudi Aramco announced that last year's crude oil production declined by 1.7 percent, while exports declined by 3.1 percent. OPEC - September 11, 2007.

    GreenField Ethanol and Monsanto Canada launch the 'Gro-ethanol' program which invites Ontario's farmers to grow corn seed containing Monsanto traits, specifically for the ethanol market. The corn hybrids eligible for the program include Monsanto traits that produce higher yielding corn for ethanol production. MarketWire - September 11, 2007.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Biofuels sector has become a major employer in Brazil

The Agência de Notícias Brasil-Arabe (ANBA) reports [*Portuguese] that the country's bioethanol sector has generated more employment than any other economic activity in recent years. And the jobs in question are not only for low skilled workers, but for graduates and post-grads as well. Technological innovations, biotech research, engineering challenges, as well as the development of entirely new bio-based products such as bioplastics from sugarcane are generating highly valued jobs.

The fact that the bioenergy industry generates jobs for highly skilled people is often taken for granted. But if universities and their programmes are an indicator of future top-of-the-pyramid employment markets, it becomes clear that the bioeconomy will transform this market across the world. In Europe, research and education in the field of bioenergy is speeding up, with major universities across the EU now offering over 60 dedicated masters and PhD programs (earlier post). France recently invited Indian students to visit the country to study and exchange experiences on biofuels and bioenergy (earlier post), whereas in the U.S. young scientists and researchers are being prepared for work in the sector via a series of special programmes.

Brazil, with its vast experience, offers us a sign of things to come. The country's biofuel industry is booming, with jobs opening in a myriad of sectors, from agronomy, sociology and logistics to engineering and biotech. In the month of April, the sugar and alcohol industry alone opened 42,000 new work positions, answering to 82% of the total generated by the transformation industry in the state of São Paulo, figures supplied by the Federation of Industries of the State of São Paulo (Fiesp) show.

According to Francisco Lupo, a professor at the Paula Souza Center, which runs 130 state-owned technical schools in the state of São Paulo, the heating up of the labor market in the sector is due, mainly, to two factors: expansion and modernization of old mills and the opening of new units in the state.

According to figures supplied by the São Paulo Sugar Cane Agro-Industry Union (Unica), 76 mills installed in São Paulo are now operating. Up to the end of the crop, it is estimated that 158 mills will be in operation - ten more than in 2006. "To supply the global demand for ethanol, the industries have expanded, improved their processes and renewed machinery. To work with this new reality professionals must prepare themselves," Lupo concludes.

Eric Ricardo da Costa, 33, is one of them. The young man left his native city of Jaguariúna, 120 kilometers away from the southeastern Brazilian state of São Paulo, and moved to Flórida Paulista, in the same state, 600 kilometers away from the capital. He went out to search for a job in the sugar and alcohol industry. And he found one. With two completed technical courses - Electronics and Mechatronics -; he has enrolled in the third, "Technician in Sugar and Alcohol" at the Eudécio Luiz Vicente Technical School, as he believes that the career, like the sector, has a prosperous future:
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Training in the field of electronics contributed to make the student into a specialist in automation of mills, one of the main aspects in modern sugar and alcohol mills and, for this reason, greatly disputed in the labour market, mainly in the western region of the state of São Paulo.

"In the Flórida Paulista region alone (where the company in which Costa is working, Floralco, is located), in a radius of 300 kilometers, there are eight mills in operation. Up to 2010, there will be another seven," explained Costa, pleased with the possibilities that are arising.

In the last term of the technical course, in 2005, Costa started working for Floralco, in charge of automation. With the growth of the industry - which expects to process 2.2 million tons of sugarcane this year -, the student was soon promoted. In less than two years, he was assisting the manager of the entire production line in the mill.

"I develop programs for company management. The furnaces, for example, which used to be controlled by 10 men, are now monitored by just one person, sitting in front of a computer," explained Costa. Remuneration is also accompanying the market. Costa explains that he earns around R$ 2,000 (US$ 1,020) a month, a value considered very good for the region.

Another career that is in the wake of the growth of the sugar and alcohol sector is chemistry, or better, alcohol-chemistry. The training is the same as that taken by Costa, "they are chemistry technicians specialized in sugar and alcohol". The Paula Souza Center, for example, trains around 80 professionals a year.

"And, currently, they all leave the school employed," stated Francisco Lupo. Over two years the students learn to control and supervise technological processes for the production of sugar, alcohol and byproducts of the industry.

"They are also prepared to deal with the quality of all phases of the productive process and to implement national and international norms that must be followed by the sector," explained Lupo. One of the strong points of the course - which guarantees employment - is the compulsory internship for students in the last term of the course. After the internship, according to Lupo, most of them are hired.

New products, new jobs
Apart from sugar and alcohol mills, alcohol-chemists have started working in the development of new products based on cane. One of the examples is PHB Industrial, the result of a partnership between groups Irmãos Biagi and Grupo Balbo. Since 1995, the company has been producing biodegradable plastic from the fermentation of sugarcane.

According to Eduardo Brondi, the company director, the plastic may be used to make packages, medication capsules, etc. The greatest advantage is disposal. "When disposed of in nature, it is biologically active, and, with bacteria and fungi, is absorbed and once again made into carbon-dioxide and water," he stated.

The sugarcane plastic was developed through a partnership between the company and professionals in the chemical area at the University of São Paulo (USP) and the São Paulo state Institute for Technological Research (IPT). For the production of a kilogram of plastic the use of three kilograms of sugar is necessary.

Another important point, apart from production from a renewable raw material and biodegradability, is that the plastic is made in a clean manner. The energy for the process, for example, is obtained from the fiber contained in the sugarcane bagasse. The part that does not become energy or bio plastic is also used: it goes to crops, as an input.

The new product, according to the specialist, opens space for various professionals, from those working at the factory, in the production of plastic, to those at the end of the line, developing, discovering applications - in industry, fashion, design - for sugarcane plastic.

The boom of ethanol has also been moving universities, and some have even created post-graduate courses in the sector. At the College of Agriculture (Esalq), there are currently three kinds of courses in the sugar and alcohol sector: "Investment and management of agro industry", "Specialization in agricultural management" and "Specialization in industrial management".

The courses last 18 months and cost approximately 650 reais (US$ 330) per month. According to Daniel Sonoda, from Esalq, three classes have already graduated in the course in the agricultural area, three in the industrial course and one in the investment course.

"The demand for the courses has been growing significantly. One example is the agro-industrial management course, we opened 40 positions and had 80 inscriptions, we decided to open a second group in the second term," he explained.

According to Sonoda, the profile of the students is varied, but a change has been noticed in recent years. "Before it was veterans in the sector who sought this kind of learning, but now it is the professionals who recently started in the sector who are interested in it," he explains.

To supply the demand for knowledge in the sector, other courses should arise this year, according to Tiago Quintella Giuliani, Agroenergy coordinator at the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply.

According to Giuliani, the government should sign an agreement with Esalq and other universities to create more courses in the area of sugar and alcohol and also in the field of agro-energy. The date has not yet been defined, but it may be this year.

Image: at the Eudécio Luiz Vicente school, bioenergy researchers are educated.

More information:
ANBA: O álcool que emprega - June 11, 2007.

Article continues

Petrobras and partner ship first ethanol cargo to Japan

Brazil's state-owned oil company Petrobras and its associated company in Japan, Brazil-Japan Ethanol Co., Ltd. (BJE), announce they have exported the first shipment of ethanol with appropriate physicochemical characteristics for use by Japanese industries. The 73,000 liters of industrial- and food-grade ethanol reached Japan Alcohol Trading Co., LTD.'s tanks, in Kobe, Japan, on June 7.

This is the first ethanol import operation carried out since the Japanese ethanol sector was deregulated, in April 2006. The exported product's characteristics are ideal for direct use by the Japanese industry, with no need for reprocessing.

Although the volume in question was not very large, the deal was important for the companies to assess all stages involved in the logistics process, ranging from shipment from the plant in Brazil to delivery at the final customer in Japan, and its impact on the product's final quality. The operation shows Petrobras is capable of ensuring the Japanese industry's high quality standards at competitive costs.

The potential industrial ethanol market in Japan is of the order of 300,000,000 liters per year, with a high degree of quality and standardization requirements:
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Brazil and Japan have been cooperating very actively on bioenergy production and trade.

Earlier, Petrobras signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Japanese Itochu Corporation to assess bioethanol, biodiesel and bioelectricity production potential from sugarcane and oleaginous plants in the semiarid Brazilian region known as the Canal do Sertão (Wilderness Channel), located in the states of Pernambuco and Bahia.

The Canal do Sertão is a 150,000-ha region located in the performance area of the Companhia de Desenvolvimento dos Vales do São Francisco e Parnaíba (Codevasf, the São Francisco and Parnaíba Valley Development Company) and covers 16 Pernambuco towns, among which Petrolina, Ouricuri, Trindade, and Araripina, in addition to the Casa Nova municipality, in Bahia.

Relevant points covered by the MOU include the joint Petrobras, Itochu Corp., Pernambuco State Government, and Codevasf efforts to extend the benefits allowed by the growing international biofuel markets to the Brazilian semiarid region. The initiative is also aimed at promoting better area use with social, economic, and environmental gains.

The studies the memorandum foresees include planting sugarcane, jatropha, and dende in the semiarid with irrigation as the main source of water supply. The goal is to guarantee biofuel raw material production year-round, without the impact of weather seasonality other Brazilian regions are affected by.

Better future production flow logistics will also be analyzed in order to supply the Japanese and other potential international markets in a safe, competitive manner.

As Brazil steps up its ethanol output and is becoming a global supplier of biofuels, it also needs investments in infrastructures to create a smooth logistical chain. A network of dedicated ethanol pipelines is already under construction. Petrobras also announced it may purchase tankers from Brazilian shipyards to export ethanol as the company moves to quadruple foreign sales of the biofuel.

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

Article continues

New York City to heat its buildings with biofuels

New York City's Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled a new green initiative for the metropolis: using biofuel to heat city buildings. The initiative is part of PLANYC 2030 that aims to green the megacity, make it hyper-efficient, less carbon intensive and more liveable.

By next year, 30 percent of heating oil purchased for city buildings will use B5 — a compound that has 5 percent biofuel.

Based on Fiscal Year 2007 numbers for city heating oil purchases, that would equal roughly 13 million gallons (49.2 million liters) of B5, or 600,000 gallons (2.3 million liters) of pure biofuel. Once the city tests its boilers on B5, it hopes to convert to using B20 — which uses 20 percent biofuel — by 2012, the mayor said.

“How much of a difference would it make?” Bloomberg asked. “The B20 blend emits 85 percent less soot than standard heating oil.” The mayor also said the initiative would help local farmers, since many grow soybeans, a crop used for biofuels.

Biodiesel mixes up to B20 can by used in home heating systems without requiring modifications to burners.

The mayor’s goal is to cut carbon emissions emitted by city government by 30 percent over the next 10 years. In his sustainability plan, he called on the rest of the city to cut that percentage of carbon emissions by 2030.

To that end, City Councilman David Yassky plans to introduce legislation called the Bioheat Act of 2007 at the next City Council meeting. It calls for the gradual phase-in of the biodiesel mix in home heating oil citywide, requiring B5 be used in 2009 and then B20 starting in 2013:
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The biofuel initiative was launched at the time Farm Aid 2007 was announced, a series of concerts and cultural events aimed at tying city-life to rural life and to raise funds to help rural families. New York City hosts this year's edition.

A Homegrown Festival will take place on Randall's Island on September 9th. This is first time that the annual benefit concert is coming to New York to raise funds to support family farming and to promote food from family farms. The Mayor, Willie Nelson and John Mellecamp were joined by Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, City Council Members Simcha Felder, James Vacca and David Yassky, State Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Patrick Hooker, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, Council on the Environment Executive Director Marcel Van Ooyen, Farm Aid Executive Director Carolyn Mugar, Greenmarket farmer Zaid Kurdieh and several farmers from the Union Square Greenmarket at the announcement in Union Square Park.

"The City strongly supports sustainable family farming through our Greenmarket program - which has nearly doubled its locations over the past five years - and it's an honor to be hosting Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Farm Aid for their 2007 concert," said Mayor Bloomberg. "We are also going to further support farmers through our plan to increase our use of biofuel, a greener, cleaning burning fuel that will help us achieve our goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030. In addition to requiring the use of B5 biofuel blend by next year, I look forward to working with the City Council on more comprehensive biofuel legislation in the coming months."

"Farm Aid is coming to New York because your enthusiasm for family farm food is keeping family farmers on the land," said Farm Aid President Willie Nelson. "We are thankful to Mayor Bloomberg, the City Council, and the many activists here who are leading efforts so that every New Yorker has access to more food from family farms."

"Things change when we all take personal responsibility for our food and where it comes from," said Farm Aid board member John Mellencamp. "Farm Aid is a force for change that works hard to keep farmers on the land so that we'll have good food on our tables."

Since its beginning, Farm Aid has traveled the country, staging annual concerts and supporting local organizations working to strengthen family farms. Farm Aid builds the Good Food Movement by connecting people with family farmers who are increasing the supply of local, humanely raised, sustainable and organic food.

"Farm Aid presents this homegrown festival to welcome everyone to a day of music for family farmers and to promote fresh healthy food for all," said Executive Director Mugar. "Each Farm Aid artist comes to the show and donates their performances because they know that family farmers are America's best source for our food and renewable energy and the best protectors of our soil and water."

Farm Aid's mission is to build a vibrant family farm centered system of agriculture in America. Farm Aid artists and board members Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews host an annual concert to raise funds to support Farm Aid's work with family farmers and to inspire people to choose family farmed food. Since 1985, Farm Aid has raised over $30 million to support programs that help farmers thrive, expand the reach of the Good Food Movement, take action to change the current system of industrial agriculture and promote food from family farms.

The City's Greenmarket program supports roughly 180 local farmers at 47 locations throughout the City, a 67% increase in locations since 2001. More than 80% of Greenmarket farmers say they would go out of businesses if it weren't for Greenmarkets.

Article continues

Summertime prompts algae company to demonstrate its technology

Quicknote bioenergy technology
PetroSun, Inc., an algae-to-biofuels company announced today that it will conduct a three-day algae-to-biodiesel demonstration at its facilities near Auburn, Alabama. The event is currently being scheduled for early August 2007 and will be by invitation only. Participants will be required to execute Secrecy / Nondisclosure Agreements prior to admittance to the demonstration site.

The purpose of the event will be to demonstrate to the alternative energy and transportation fuel industries that the cultivation of algae, extraction of algal oil and the conversion to a biofuel are possible on a commercial scale. PetroSun will provide algal oil samples and analysis to participants prior to the event for their independent studies. A diesel truck engine will be operated during the three-day demonstration from algae biodiesel produced by the company.

Like others, we are sceptical of algae technology, with reason. Most of the algae companies have never proved that the technology works on a continuous basis and/or on a large scale. Some of them have seriously disappointed investors because their claims will never materialise and they have been postponing demonstrations indefinitely. Still other algae companies seem to drop press releases on a monthly basis, while in silence they are investing in ordinary terrestrial energy crops or announce fantasy concepts (just to get press attention). Some scientists go so far as to say that all of the algae companies' claims simply contradict the most basic laws of physics [*.pdf].

The fact is that decades of fundamental research showed that the micro-organisms can not deliver any serious amount of energy. Lots of data from the 1970s and 1980s are available that can be compared to PetroSun's trials (an overview).

Interestingly, it is no coincidence PetroSun's trials take place in the hottest and sunniest summer month of the year. Like any photosynthetic organism, the amount and intensity of sunlight determines the amount of energy that is produced in its cells.

For algae, biomass productivities can be very high in summertime (with peaks of up to 37.5g/m²/per day), but drop in wintertime to negligable productivities as low as 3g/m²/day. Very few trials have ever been successfully carried out for longer than a year (most cultures became contaminated or unstable after a few days or weeks and had to be discontinued). When grown continuously during an entire year including during the autumn, winter and spring months with their low productivities, and in optimal, sunny locations (like the Negev Desert), maximum average productivities recorded in the many trials of the 1970s and 1980s were 51.1 tons of biomass per hectare, well below the productivity of ordinary terrestrial energy crops like sugarcane. Average yields were around 30 tons/ha/year:
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With these data in mind, it will be interesting to see how well PetroSun's algae perform. The researchers from the past have often written that the maximum yields (50 tonnes/ha/year) were too low to make algae based biofuels competitive with oil at record oil prices (which stood at US$ 80/barrel back then). Costs had to come down by a factor of between 5 and 20. Since the discontinuation of most algae-biofuel research in the 1990s, there have been no major biotech breakthroughs in the field.

PetroSun's trial is important but it must be stressed that a three day trial says nothing about the capacity of the technology to grow algae continuously for a whole year, and year after year, including during the winter season that seams to be a major barrier to algae-culture.

It is not clear whether PetroSun's trials will be with algae grown in open raceway ponds or in closed photobioreactors. If the latter is the case, we can dismiss the technology out of hand immediately. There was a scientific consensus in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, both in Europe, the US and Japan, that such expensive bioreactors can never be cost-effective. Open ponds were seen as the only viable option, but came with many drawbacks (such as contamination with rival organisms and pollution).

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U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Energy announce new US$ 18 million sollicitation for biomass R & D

Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) granted a total of US$ 8.3 million for 11 bioenergy research projects (previous post). Today both departments announced that for fiscal year 2007 another US$18 million will be available for research and development of biomass-based products, biofuels, bioenergy and related processes.

USDA and DOE are issuing these grant solicitations for several types of projects aimed at increasing the availability of alternative and renewable fuels, which will help further President Bush's bold energy initiatives, including Twenty in Ten. The Twenty in Ten Initiative promotes greater energy security through increased efficiency and diversification of energy sources. USDA will provide up to US$14 million and DOE will provide up to US$4 million.

The solicitation will fund projects in the following four categories (the share of overall funding is noted in parenthesis): the development of technologies to convert cellulosic biomass into intermediaries for biobased fuels (45 percent); product diversification (30 percent); feedstock production (20 percent); and analysis for strategic guidance (5 percent):
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Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns cited how research and development (R&D) efforts outlined in past grant awards could develop technology that support the goals of the President's 20 in 10 Initiative. In Indiana and Illinois, researchers from both the pubic and private sector are working to improve dry mill fractionation. The goal is to increase ethanol production from corn and, as a by-product of that, to produce protein additives for cattle feed. It is anticipated that ethanol production estimates could increase significantly if this research is successful and implemented within the dry mill fractionation process. When this technology is implemented, energy savings annually are estimated at about 1,500 billion BTU's per dry mill. In addition, penetration at a level of 70% of the dry mills with this technology could produce an additional 1.2 billion gallons of ethanol from corn and an additional production of 130 million barrels of biodiesel.

Reducing U.S. reliance imported sources of energy is one of President Bush's top priorities. In effort to break America's addiction to oil, the President's Farm Bill proposal includes US$1.6 billion in new renewable energy funding for USDA. It seeks US$500 million over 10 years to expand the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Program, US$500 million for bioenergy and biobased research, and US$210 million to support US$2.1 billion in loan guarantees for energy efficiency measures, with a significant focus on cellulosic ethanol.

Since 2002, USDA has awarded US$58.1 million in grants to 55 projects in 27 states and the District of Columbia under the Biomass Research and Development Initiative. Since the beginning of 2007, DOE has announced nearly $1 billion in funding for biofuels R&D.

Maximum award amounts will not exceed US$1 million. Eligible applicants include state and federal research agencies, national laboratories, private-sector groups and nonprofit organizations. Consortia of two or more groups also are encouraged to apply. The closing date for pre-applications is July 11, 2007.

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Joint Genome Institute announces 2008 genome sequencing targets with focus on bioenergy and carbon cycle

The U.S. Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI) has announced the latest Community Sequencing Program (CSP) portfolio. These plant and microbial targets - most with implications for bioenergy and the carbon cycle - total some 21 billion nucleotides of DNA sequence capacity allocated to public projects submitted through the CSP for fiscal year 2008.

The efforts are carried out by international teams of scientists and deal with plants and organisms that are candidates for biomass energy, for the conversion of biomass into biofuels and for bioremediation.

Among the highest profile and largest of these projects, with a 600-million-nucleotide genome, is the genome of the tropical eucalyptus tree (Eucalyptus grandis) - geared to the generation of resources for renewable biomass energy. This sequencing effort is led by Alexander Myburg of the University of Pretoria, South Africa, with Gerald Tuskan of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (and DOE JGI), and Dario Grattapaglia, of EMBRAPA Genetic Resources and Biotechnology (Brazil). The proposal for this project to DOE JGI comes from the International Eucalyptus Genome Consortium (IEuGC), supported by 62 letters from 55 organizations in 15 countries.

The biomass production and carbon sequestration capacities of eucalyptus trees match DOE's and the U.S. interests in alternative energy production and global carbon cycling. The consortium of eucalyptus draws upon the expertise from dozens of institutions and hundreds of researchers worldwide.

Eucalyptus has a very large bioenergy potential in the tropics, as was recently shown in an EU study indicating the amount of suitable non-forest land for the crop. In Central Africa and Brazil alone, some 92 million hectares of land are available where the crop can be grown sustainably (earlier post).

A major challenge for the achievement of a sustainable energy future is the understanding of the molecular basis of superior growth and adaptation in woody plants suitable for biomass production. Eucalyptus species are among the fastest growing woody plants in the world and, at approximately 18 million hectares in 90 countries, the most widely planted genus of plantation forest trees in the world. Eucalyptus is also listed as one of the U.S. Department of Energy's candidate biomass energy crops.

Genome sequencing is essential for understanding the basis of eucalyptus's superior properties and to compare and contrast them with other species. The unique evolutionary history, keystone ecological status, and adaptation to marginal sites make eucalyptus an excellent focus for expanding knowledge of the evolution and adaptive biology of perennial plants. The eucalyptus genome, the second tree to be sequenced, will also provide extraordinary opportunities for comparative genomic analysis with the poplar, the first ever tree sequenced by an international team of scientists, including those of the DOE JGI last year (previous post):
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Foxtail millet
The second largest CSP project selected for 2008 is foxtail millet (Setaria italica), led by researchers at the University of Georgia, the University of Florida, the University of Missouri, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service - Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and the University of Tennessee.

Foxtail millet, a forage crop, is a close relative of several prospective biofuel crops, including switchgrass, napiergrass, sorghum and pearl millet. It is grown extensively in East Asia, Africa and India. In the U.S., pearl millet is grown on some 1.5 million acres. It is envisioned that pearl millet would be useful as a supplement or replacement for corn in ethanol plants in regions that suffer from drought and low-fertility soils.

Carbon cycle and algae
The third largest genome project to be taken on by DOE JGI in 2008 is the marine red alga Porphyra purpurea. The ocean plays a key role in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere with the help of marine photosynthetic organisms like Porphyra consuming the carbon and releasing oxygen. Porphyra species are among the most common algae in the intertidal and subtidal zones of temperate rocky shores in both the northern and southern hemispheres. Understanding the effects of elevated climatic stresses on photosynthetic organisms would benefit from genome-enabled studies of carbon fixation in Porphyra, because of this organism's great diversity of light-harvesting and photo-protective strategies.

The CSP will pursue eight smaller eukaryotic projects in 2008, using both traditional Sanger sequencing and next-generation pyrosequencing technology. These projects include the following:
  • Paxillus involutus: Over 75 percent of the carbon in terrestrial ecosystems is stored in forests. More than half of this carbon is found in soil organic matter (SOM). Recent studies have indicated that ectomycorrhizal fungi like Paxillus provide the dominant pathway through which carbon enters the SOM. These fungi are also known to protect plants from toxic metals. Thus, the development of metal-tolerant fungal associations would provide a strategy for active remediation of metal-contaminated soils.
  • Two species of Phaeocystis phytoplankton: The Phaeocystis genus contributes approximately 10 percent of annual global marine primary photosynthetic production, equivalent to four billion metric tons of carbon dioxide captured or "fixed" annually--reinforcing its importance for the study of the global carbon cycle and carbon sequestration.
  • The leaf-degrading fungus Agaricus bisporus: Genomic studies of A. bisporus target enhanced understanding of the mechanisms employed for efficient conversion of lignocellulose--crucial for the production of fuels and products from renewable biomass.
  • The first ciliated protozoan genome, Tetrahymena thermophila: A microbial model organism for discovering fundamental principles of eukaryotic biology, it will allow improved construction and stability of cell lines for the over-expression of proteins, including cellulase enzymes to overcome the limiting hurdle of biomass-to-biofuel production and metal-chelating proteins to enhance the already superior capacity of ciliates for bioremediation of toxic heavy metals in industrial effluents.
  • Pine and Conifer EST resource: expressed sequence tags (ESTs) are fragments of DNA sequence that serve as a tool for the identification of genes and prediction of their protein products and their function. Conifer forests are among the most productive in terms of annual lignocellulosic biomass generation, and coniferous trees are the preferred feedstock for much of the forest products industry. Climate change and exotic forest pests are threatening conifer populations. Breeding programs to improve conifers will benefit from access to this genomic resource.
  • The soybean pathogen Heterodera glycines: Soybean is a major oil, feed, and export crop, with $17 billion annually in unprocessed crop value in the U.S. alone. Soy biodiesel is a leading contender for a renewable, alternative vehicle fuel with a high energy density. Soybean has the environmental and energy advantage of not requiring the use of nitrogen fertilizer. H. glycines is the most significant pathogen of soybean in the U.S.; thus, sequencing its genome would aid in the development of control strategies and directly contribute to soybean yield enhancement.
  • The liverwort, Marchantia polymorpha: The origin of land plants is acknowledged as one of the major evolutionary events in the earth's history. Experimental, paleontological, morphological, and molecular systematic data all point to the liverworts as being among the first plants to evolve and colonize the landscape. Thus, liverworts are a key group to include in any comparative study aimed at understanding the origin and evolution of organisms that now cover much of terrestrial earth.
Microbes for bioprocessing
DOE JGI and its collaborators have pioneered the emerging discipline of metagenomics - isolating, sequencing, and characterizing DNA extracted directly from environmental samples - to obtain a genomic and metabolic profile of the microbial community residing in a particular environment. In addition to adding 54 different microbial isolate genomes to the production sequencing queue in 2008, DOE JGI will work with large communities of collaborators to take on four important metagenomic projects.
  • Anammox bacteria: Anammox bacteria are able to synthesize the rocket fuel hydrazine from ammonia and hydroxylamine. Insight into the genes and proteins involved in this reaction may be the basis for further optimization of the production of this potent fuel in a suitable biological system. Also, anammox bacteria are responsible for about 50 percent of the processing of ammonia to nitrogen gas in the ocean. In marine ecosystems, the carbon and nitrogen cycles are closely connected. More information about the regulation and mechanism of CO2 sequestration by anammox bacteria in the ocean will contribute to our understanding of the global biogeochemical cycles and their impact on climate change.
  • Biogas-degrading community: It is estimated that 236 million tons of municipal solid waste is produced annually in the U.S., 50 percent of which is biomass. Converting organic waste to renewable biofuel represents an appealing option to exploit this potential resource. In California alone, it is estimated that 22 million tons of organic waste is generated annually, which if converted by microbial digestion, could produce biogas equivalent to 1.3 million gallons of gasoline per day. Yet little is known about the microorganisms involved and their biology. This study aims to optimize the anaerobic digestion process and promote conversion of biomass into biofuel.
  • Accumulibacter population genomics: Enhanced biological phosphorus removal (EBPR) is a wastewater treatment process used throughout the world to protect surface waters from accelerated stagnation and depletion of oxygen. EBPR can be unreliable and often requires expensive backup chemical treatments to protect sensitive receiving waters. This project will shed light on the microbial population dynamics leading to better use and management of these important environmental systems.
  • Genomics of Yellowstone geothermal environments: The hot pools of Yellowstone National Park harbor a mostly unexplored treasure-trove of extremeophiles, microbes that thrive in extreme conditions. These communities represent a rich opportunity to identify enzymes or processes that promise to advance biofuels and nanomaterial science applications.
Established in 2005, the Community Sequencing Program (CSP) provides the scientific community at large with access to high-throughput sequencing by DOE JGI for projects of relevance to DOE missions. Sequencing projects are chosen based on scientific merit - judged through independent peer review - and relevance to issues in bioenergy, global carbon cycling, and bioremediation.

More information:
DOE JGI: DOE Joint Genome Institute Announces 2008 Genome Sequencing Targets - June 8, 2007.

The full list of the CSP 2008 sequencing projects can be found here.

The International Eucalyptus Genome Network.

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