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    AltraBiofuels, a California-based producer of renewable biofuels, announced that it has secured an additional US$165.5 million of debt financing for the construction and completion of two plants located in Coshocton, Ohio and Cloverdale, Indiana. The Coshocton plant's capacity is anticipated to reach 60million gallons/year while the Cloverdale plant is expected to reach 100 million gallons/year. Business Wire - June 23, 2007.

    Brazil and the Dominican Republic have inked a biofuel cooperation agreement aimed at alleviating poverty and creating economic opportunity. The agreement initially focuses on the production of biodiesel in the Dominican Republic. Dominican Today - June 21, 2007.

    Malaysian company Ecofuture Bhd makes renewable products from palm oil residues such as empty fruit bunches and fibers (more here). It expects the revenue contribution of these products to grow by 10% this year, due to growing overseas demand, says executive chairman Jang Lim Kuang. 95% of the group's export earnings come from these products which include natural oil palm fibre strands and biodegradable mulching and soil erosion geotextile mats. Bernama - June 20, 2007.

    Argent Energy, a British producer of waste-oil based biodiesel, announced its intention to seek a listing on London's AIM via a placing of new and existing ordinary shares with institutional investors. Argent plans to use the proceeds to construct the first phase of its proposed 150,000 tonnes (170 million litres) plant at Ellesmere Port, near Chester, and to develop further plans for a 75,000 tonnes (85 million litres) plant in New Zealand. Argent Energy - June 20, 2007.

    The first conference of the European Biomass Co-firing Network will be held in Budapest, Hungary, from 2 to 4 July 2007. The purpose of the conference is to bring together scientists, engineers and members of public institutions to present the current state-of-the-art on biomass co-firing. Participants will also discuss future trends and directions in order to promote awareness of this technology as a sustainable energy supply, which could decrease the dependency on fossil fuels and guarantee a decentralised source of energy in Europe. The conference is supported by the EU-funded NETBIOCOF (Integrated European Network for Biomass Co-firing) project. NetBioCof - June 19, 2007.

    Green Energy Resources predicts US$50 per ton biomass woodchip prices within the next twelve months. The current US price level is between $25-32 per ton. Demand caused by the 25-30 new power plants planned in New England by 2010 does not include industry, institutions, universities, hospitals or conversions from natural gas, or cellulostic ethanol. Procurement of woodchips will be based on the delivery capacity of suppliers not local prices for the first time in history. Green Energy has been positioning in New England with rail and port locations to meet the anticipated sector expansion. MarketWire - June 19, 2007.

    In the first major initiative in the US to build a grassroots communications network for the advancement of biofuels adoption, a new national association called The American Biofuels Council (ABC) has been formed. American Biofuels Council - June 19, 2007.

    The Novi Sad-based Jerković Group, in partnership with the Austrian Christof Group, are to invest about €48 million (US$64.3m) in a biodiesel plant in Serbia. Property Xpress - June 19, 2007.

    Biodiesel producer D1 Oils, known for its vast jatropha plantations in Africa and Asia, is to invest CNY 500 to 700 million (€48.9-68.4 / US$65.5-91.7) to build a refinery in Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, in what is expected to be the first biodiesel plant in the country using jatropha oil as a feedstock. South China Morning Post - June 18, 2007.

    After Brazil announced a record sugar crop for this year, with a decline in both ethanol and sugar prices as a result, India too is now preparing for a bumper harvest, a senior economist with the International Sugar Organization said. Raw sugar prices could fall further towards 8 cents per lb in coming months, after their 30% drop so far this year. Converting the global surplus, estimated to be 4 million tonnes, into ethanol may offer a way out of the downward trend. Economic Times India - June 18, 2007.

    After Brazil announced a record sugar crop for this year, with a decline in both ethanol and sugar prices as a result, India too is now preparing for a bumper harvest, a senior economist with the International Sugar Organization said. Raw sugar prices could fall further towards 8 cents per lb in coming months, after their 30% drop so far this year. Converting the global surplus, estimated to be 4 million tonnes, into ethanol may offer a way out of the downward trend. Economic Times India - June 18, 2007.

    A report from the US Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Services (USDA FAS) estimates that the production of ethanol in China will reach 1.45 million tonnes (484 million gallons US) in 2007, up 12% from 1.3 million tonnes in 2006. Plans are to increase ethanol feedstocks from non-arable lands making the use of tuber crops such as cassava and sweet sorghum. USDA-FAS - June 17, 2007.

    The Iowa State University's Extension Bioeconomy Task Force carried out a round of discussions on the bioeconomy with citizens of the state. Results indicate most people see a bright future for the new economy, others are cautious and take on a distanced, more objective view. The potential for jobs and economic development were the most important opportunities identified by the panels. Iowa is the leading producer of corn based ethanol in the US. Iowa State University - June 16, 2007.

    Biofuel producer D1 Oils Plc, known for establishing large jatropha plantations on (degraded land) in Africa and Asia, said it was in advanced talks with an unnamed party regarding a strategic collaboration, sending its shares up 7 percent, after press reports linking it with BP. Firms like BP and other large petroleum companies are keen to secure a supply of biofuel to meet UK government regulations that 5 percent of automotive fuel must be made up of biofuels by 2010. Reuters UK - June 15, 2007.

    Jean Ziegler, a U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food, told a news briefing held on the sidelines of the U.N. Human Rights Council that "there is a great danger for the right to food by the development of biofuels". His comments contradict a report published earlier by a consortium of UN agencies, which said biofuels could boost the food security of the poor. Reuters - June 15, 2007.

    The county of Chicheng in China's Hebei Province recently signed a cooperative contract with the Australian investment and advisory firm Babcock & Brown to invest RMB480 million (€47.2/US$62.9 million) in a biomass power project, state media reported today. Interfax China - June 14, 2007.

    A new two-stroke ICE engine developed by NEVIS Engine Company Ltd. may nearly double fuel efficiency and lower emissions. Moreover, the engine's versatile design means it can be configured to be fuelled not only by gasoline but also by diesel, hydrogen and biofuels. PRWeb - June 14, 2007.

    Houston-based Gulf Ethanol Corp., announced it will develop sorghum as an alternative feedstock for the production of cellulosic ethanol. Scientists have developed drought tolerant, high-yield varieties of the crop that would grow well in the drier parts of the U.S. and reduce reliance on corn. Business Wire - June 14, 2007.

    Bulgaria's Rompetrol Rafinare is to start delivering Euro 4 grade diesel fuel with a 2% biodiesel content to its domestic market starting June 25, 2007. The same company recently started to distributing Super Ethanol E85 from its own brand and Dyneff brand filling stations in France. It is building a 2500 ton/month, €13.5/US$18 million biodiesel facility at its Petromidia refinery. BBJ - June 13, 2007.

    San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), a utility serving 3.4 million customers, announced it has signed a supply contract with Envirepel Energy, Inc. for renewable biomass energy that will be online by October 2007. Bioenergy is part of a 300MW fraction of SDG&E's portfolio of renewable resources. San Diego Gas & Electric - June 13, 2007.

    Cycleenergy, an Austrian bioenergy group, closed €6.7 million in equity financing for expansion of its biomass and biogas power plant activities in Central and Eastern Europe. The company is currently completing construction of a 5.5 MW (nominal) woodchip fired biomass facility in northern Austria and has a total of over 150 MW of biomass and biogas combined heat and power (CHP) projects across Central Europe in the pipeline. Cycleenergy Biopower [*.pdf] - June 12, 2007.

    The government of Taiwan unveils its plan to promote green energy, with all government vehicles in Taipei switching to E3 ethanol gasoline by September and biofuel expected to be available at all gas stations nationwide by 2011. Taipei Times - June 12, 2007.

    A large-scale biogas production project is on scheme in Vienna. 17,000 tonnes of organic municipal waste will be converted into biogas that will save up to 3000 tonnes of CO2. 1.7 million cubic meters of biogas will be generated that will be converted into 11.200 MWh of electricity per year in a CHP plant, the heat of which will be used by 600 Viennese households. The €13 million project will come online later this year. Wien Magazine [*German] - June 11, 2007.

    The annual biodiesel market in Bulgaria may grow to 400 000 tons in two to three years, a report by the Oxford Business Group says. The figure would represent a 300-per cent increase compared to 2006 when 140 000 tons of biodiesel were produced in Bulgaria. This also means that biofuel usage in Bulgaria will account for 5.75 per cent of all fuel consumption by 2010, as required by the European Commission. A total of 25 biofuel producing plants operate in Bulgaria at present. Sofia Echo - June 11, 2007.

    The Jordan Biogas Company in Ruseifa is currently conducting negotiations with the government of Finland to sell CER's under the UN's Clean Development Mechanism obtained from biogas generated at the Ruseifa landfill. Mena FN - June 11, 2007.

    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.

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

German consortium starts production of ultra-clean synthetic biofuels

A group of German research organisations has begun [*German] producing the primary feedstock for high-quality synthetic biofuels from different types of biomass. The process to obtain such 'biomass-to-liquid' (BtL) fuels was named 'bioLiq' and consists of two steps: a decentralised phase in which raw biomass is transformed close to the source of harvest into an oil with a high energy density via fast-pyrolysis. The resulting bio-oil can then be transported economically to a central facility where it is gasified and liquefied via Fischer-Tropsch synthesis into a range of finished fuel products. The process allows for the production of fuels with properties similar to diesel or gasoline, with the difference that the synthetic biofuels are ultra-clean and renewable.

The Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe (FZK) and Lurgi AG have been designing and building the fast-pyrolysis pilot plant for the past two years. During the inauguration last week (June 20) both organisations signed an agreement to build the gasification and liquefaction plant needed to perform the second stage of the production. The work is being supported by the Fachagentur Nachwachsende Rohstoffe (Agency for Renewable Materials, of Germany's Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Consumer protection).

The fast-pyrolysis plant can transform 500 kilograms of biomass per hour. It is a test-bed for commercial plants which will convert up to 50 tons per hour. Part of the second-stage of the process (gasification into synthesis gas) is carried out by a third partner, Future Energy in Freiberg.

Synthetic biofuels are based on renewable biomass, which is why they do not add CO2 to the atmosphere when they are combusted. But aside from their carbon-neutrality, they also have properties that far surpass those of petroleum based fuels and other biofuels: they are sulphur-free, low aromatic and odourless fuels that significantly reduce regulated and non-regulated vehicle pollutant emissions (NOx, SOx, PM, VOC, CO). They can be readily used in existing fuelling infrastructures and engines, but they also enable the development of a new generation of internal combustion engine technologies with improved engine efficiency and further reduction of vehicle pollutant emissions. Synthetic biofuels are readily biodegradable and non-toxic.

Decentralised production
The two-stage bioLiq process developed by the FZK is a first step towards the large-scale adoption of synthetic biofuels in Germany, where they are estimated to have the potential to replace up to 15% of all transport fuels by 2015 and 35% by 2030 (estimates by the German Energy Agency - earlier post).

The main bottleneck in the production chain of BtL fuels is the low energy density of biomass feedstocks such as wood chips, straw, paper, pulp and other residues from agriculture, forestry and industry. By placing fast-pyrolysis plants near the biomass source the residues can be transformed into bio-oil (pyrolysis oil) the energy density of which is 13 to 15 times higher. Transporting raw biomass over distances larger than 25 kilometres is economically unattractive, with bio-oil the range can be extended by a factor of 10 and more.
This decentralised concept makes it possible to transform biomass into a bio-oil while using existing agricultural production chains and structures. Part of the added value chain is thus kept local, close to the biomass source. - Dr. Ludolf Plass, Chief of Technological Development of Lurgi AG
The decentralised fast-pyrolysis step consists of heating the biomass in the absence of air to a temperature of 500°C after which pyrolysis oil and tar is obtained. Both materials are then mixed into a liquid suspension ('bioliqSyncrude') ready to be shipped to the gasification and Fischer-Tropsch plant:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Central facility
There, the bioliqSyncrude is gasified in an entrained flow gasifier at temperatures of up to 1200 °C and pressures of 80bar to obtain a tar-free synthesis gas, which consists mainly of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Future Energy based in Freiberg has tested and improved its 5MW gasifier over the past years in such a way that it has become possible to transfer the high pressure synthesis gas directly to the next synthesis steps. An intermediate compression step - which is costly and risky - is thereby avoided.

The synthesis gas can be converted into a broad range of platform chemicals. Via the Fischer-Tropsch process it can be transformed into synthetic fuels. A process to convert the gas into methanol, an intermediate material for other fuels, was developed as well. This way, a series of 'designer fuels' can be made with properties similar to fuels from the entire spectrum of middle distillates found in traditional oil refining. The synthetic biofuels are much cleaner, less damaging to the environment, and emit far fewer of all the common emissions. Synthetic biofuels are also cleaner than first generation types of biodiesel and bioethanol. They promise to allow countries to reach their targets for the use of low-carbon fuels, part of the effort to mitigate climate change.

The technology to transform synthesis gas into liquid fuels - the Fischer-Tropsch process - was developed in the 1930s in Germany, when oil was scarce. Coal was used as a feedstock, but that would be problematic today. Renewable biomass can readily substitute coal, but it has taken a while before researchers found the most optimal ways to use different types of it as a feedstock. It is important to know and standardize the properties of the primary bio-oil (bioliqSyncrude) obtained from many different sources of biomass, because once this oil has been produced there is no way back and it will be used 'as is' in the gasification and liquefaction stage.
This is why the fast-pyrolysis pilot plays such a crucial role in the entire project. It allows us to test and optimize the transformation of different types biomass. With Lurgi AG we have found a partner who has been developing the technology for years and who has made several key innovations - Professor Dr. Eckhard Dinjus, Director of the Instituts für Technische Chemie, part of the Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe.
Lurgi AG began experimenting with the fast-pyrolysis of coal and petroleum products in the 1970s. Today it is a leader in the use of the same process on biomass. The same company has also been instrumental in the growth of the biodiesel and bioethanol industry and has built a large number of plants throughout Europe.

The two-stage bioliq process has received a lot of attention from the political, industrial and business communities. Besides the German auto-industry and players in the petrochemical sector, investors from across Europe and beyond have shown interest, partly because the bioliq-concept received the prestigious "BlueSky Award" from the UNIDO, in 2006. The UNIDO is a UN agency that deals with industrial development; the award is given to organisations which develop breakthrough technologies that might benefit mankind as a whole.

The award points to the fact that the technology can be used in the developing world, where large streams of unused biomass are available. Transforming these raw resources into bio-oil allows for the creation of an export oriented biofuels industry, in which the Global South benefits from its competitive advantages in the agricultural sector.

The costs for the production of these next-generation synthetic biofuels is estimated to be around 50 eurocent. To this must be added the costs for the raw biomass which are estimated to be slightly lower but in the same range. This way, the total costs for the high-tech fuels will be below 1 Euro per liter.

The Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe is a member of the Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft, an organisation uniting 15 of Germany's top research institutions. Its annual budget is around €2.1 billion, making it the largest scientific organisation in the country. A total of 24,000 scientists, researchers and other staff work for the Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft in fields ranging from materials sciencies, the environment and Earth sciences, transport, health, energy and new key technology fields such as nanotechnology.

Translated and adapted by Jonas Van Den Berg and Laurens Rademakers

: the fast-pyrolis plant at the FZK in Karlsruhe. Courtesy: Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe.

Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe in der Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft: bioliq® – Stroh im Tank! - June 20, 2007.

Lurig AG: Lurgi making fuel from biomass - June 21, 2007.

Biopact: German Energy Agency: biomass-to-liquids can meet up to 35% of Germany's fuel needs by 2030 - December 15, 2006

Article continues

Oman Green Energy Company makes ethanol from date palm, plans large refinery, 100 ethanol pumps by 2010

Entrepreneurs based in the city of Sohar, Oman, want to turn the sultanate and oil producer into the first Arab country to use biofuels on a large scale. Mohammad Bin Saif Al Harthy and his partners at the Oman Green Energy Company claim they have been successfully producing and testing ethanol from biomass obtained from the abundantly present date palms for the last 18 months.

In an interview with Gulf News Al Harthy said that the production method does not affect the date crop nor does it require the removal of palm trees. Instead, cellulose biomass will be extracted from around 80,000 date palms in a 'non-intensive' way. The description of the process remains vague and could involve tapping glucose-rich sap from the tree, a technique which would however be very labor-intensive (see here for an Algerian biotech company that simply uses the sugar-rich fruits).

Sugars in dates consist of a mixture of sucrose, glucose and fructose. Traditionally, dates have been used more to make date palm wine, alcohol, syrup and liquid sugar than as fruits. Dates belong to the sweetest of all fruits, with a sugar content ranging from 45 to 85% on a dry weight basis (table, click to enlarge). So in principle, they make for an interesting biofuel feedstock.

The Omani company sees an opportunity and immediately thinks big:
  • over the next 10 years, it wants to establish plantations with a total of 10 million date palms
  • a biofuel refinery will be set up in Sohar and will have an annual capacity of 900,000 tonnes for the first two years, to be increased to 4.8 million tonnes within four years
  • it wants to open 100 ethanol stations across the country by 2010
  • large-scale production and marketing of the biofuel will begin by 2010
  • the biofuel project is expected to generate employment for over 3,500 Omanis in the first five years
Date palms (Phoenix dactylifera L.) thrive in Oman's hot and arid climate. They require temperatures of around 40°C but quite some water, which is provided by irrigation systems (some of which are millenia old). The palm is the sultanate's the primary crop where it represents 82% of all fruit trees. Soil and water salinity, pests and diseases, increased production costs as well as limited market outlets led to a decline in date production in recent years. In 2005, Oman harvested some 238,000 tonnes of dates, grown on 34,000 hectares, yielding an average of 7 tonnes per hectare - down from 2001, when the country's date palm production reached a highpoint with 298,000 tonnes harvested (FAOstat). Apparently, biofuels may revive the sector.

Even though it is not a member of OPEC, Oman is heavily dependent on oil production. The sultanate derives over 90% of its export revenues from the 700,000 barrels of petroleum it produces each single day:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Al Harthy claims his company has acquired a licence to set up the biorefinery in Sohar, the northern town in Oman that has become a hub of petrochemical industries. The entrepreneur and his partners at the Oman Green Energy Company are also hoping to raise 55 million Omani riyals (€106.3/US$142.8 million) capital from European countries.

Talking about the experiment of running his own car on biofuel, Al Harthy said: "All small cars can run on biofuel without any problems and it is much cheaper compared to conventional petrol and also helpful for our environment." Al Harthy also said that the prime target would be automobile users but they would also supply ethanol to power stations.

He claimed that Oman would be the first country in the world neither to cut trees nor to use waste, chip wood to extract cellulose ethanol. "We plan to use the enzyme that we have developed to extract the biomass from palm trees," he said, admitting that they are also seeking collaborations with laboratories in the West.

It is unclear whether Al Harthy's company has developed any innovative technologies either for the harvest of primary feedstock or for its conversion into ethanol. But the production of ethanol from date palm fruits is not unfeasible as such. The oil-producing sultanate may well have cars running on biofuel in the near future.

Table taken from: Date palm products, Agricultural Services Bulletins - 101, 1993, T0681/E

Gulf News: Tapping green alternative - June 23, 2007.

R. Al-Yahyai, "Improvement of date palm production in the Sultanate of Oman", ISHS Acta Horticulturae 736: III International Date Palm Conference, February 2006.

The FAO has an interesting overview of the date palm's cultivation and uses: Date palm products, Agricultural Services Bulletins - 101, 1993, T0681/E

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University of Georgia and Mexican universities team up to produce bioenergy from livestock waste

The University of Georgia and a group of Mexican universities have formed a new research partnership to share expertise in generating biofuels and bioenergy from waste materials generated by the livestock sector. Funded by the United States Agency for International Development, the partnership will initiate training, internships and exchanges between UGA and a wide array of academics and professionals in Mexico.

The program is designed to provide Mexico's agricultural professionals the skills needed to analyze and support sustainable management of resources at the interface of agriculture and the environment.

The UGA partnership with the Universidad Autónoma de Coahuila, Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León, Universidad Autónoma Agraria Antonio Narro and the Ecogenics Center for Study of Alternative Solutions of Sevierville, Tenn., will sponsor a demand-driven, integrated and interdisciplinary program of training and technical support to the livestock industry in the Laguna region of Mexico. The program will provide scholarships for 18 students from Mexico and sponsor faculty exchanges of 12 Mexican faculty visiting the U.S and 10 UGA faculty visiting Mexico over a two year period.

The program will target technology and business policy relating to integrated waste management that is cost-effective and will provide additional income through co-product generation from waste treatment. One aspect of the grant will integrate new innovations in animal waste treatment with the production of biofuels and bioenergy. In addition, the program will develop and analyze public policy, with a goal of regulatory regimes that improve productivity and competitiveness in the livestock sector:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Under this research partnership, students will come here to gain insights and training in engineering technology connected to managing and converting waste to energy in the livestock sector. I am excited about it - the project will support education of graduate and undergraduate students at UGA and training of research and outreach faculty in Mexico and at our institution. - K.C. Das, UGA engineering professor, project director for the U.S.
Joint training programs and workshops in the partnership will be organized by UGA-Mexican partner universities for students, faculty, government officials and regulatory board officials, as well as livestock industry personnel. Participants will focus on animal waste - using it to grow algae in the production of biodiesel, or anaerobically digesting it to produce methane, for example - and the fuels that can be generated from waste materials.

Livestock production worldwide has grown rapidly in light of increased demand for meat in developing countries. The potential for rural economic development and threats of environmental degradation alike have grown alongside the need for new sources of bioenergy. Finding new energy sources from waste streams within the industry is one way engineers have determined to fuse these three aspects into one route for competitive advantage and sustainable growth. The confluence of engineering technology with agricultural economics is a UGA strength that created the context for the new partnership.

The UGA Faculty of Engineering was established in 2001 to advance comprehensive engineering at the University of Georgia. With over 100 members from twenty-four departments in nine schools and colleges across campus, the Faculty of Engineering provides an entrepreneurial setting for engineering academic programs in the unique environment of UGA.

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Alstom signs contracts with E.ON, Statoil and AEP to trial chilled ammonia carbon capture technique

At the Biopact, we keep track of advancements in carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies, because they can be applied to power plants no matter which fuel they burn. This includes solid biomass (co-fired with coal), liquid biofuels and biogas.

When a power plant utilizes such biofuels and captures the carbon dioxide released from them to sequester the gas, the useful energy obtained from such a facility in fact becomes carbon-negative. That is, the more you use of it, the more CO2 gets taken out of the atmosphere. No other energy system can become carbon-negative (other renewables like wind and solar are slightly carbon positive or carbon neutral at best, CCS with fossil fuels remains a largely carbon positive system).

CCS power plants burning biofuels are called 'Bio-Energy with Carbon Storage' (BECS) systems and are seen by scientists to be one of the only few feasible options to mitigate climate change in a serious way and on a large scale, without drastically cutting the power supply to societies (earlier post).

There are some risks involved in CCS, though, like potential leakage of CO2 from the sequestration site. For this reason, some think the safest way forward is to start large CCS trials immediately with biofuels. In case CO2 leakage were to occur, the escaping gas would only be carbon neutral. But when fossil fuels like coal and natural gas were to be used, the leakage would result in a net increase in CO2 in the atmosphere.

But the main bottleneck for CCS (with biofuels or not) to become commercially feasible is the lack of efficient carbon capture techniques. Several options are available. CO2 can either be removed from the fuel before it is burned ('pre-combustion capture') or from the flue gases after combustion ('post-combustion capture'). An overview of these different techniques can be found here.

French multinational Alstom now announces it has signed contracts with energy giants E.ON, Statoil and American Electric Power to test its chilled ammonia carbon capture technology on both coal and natural gas (schematic, click to enlarge).

With E.ON
Jointly with E.ON, Alstom will implement the chilled ammonia process as a 5MW demonstration plant at the Karlshamn Power Plant in southern Sweden and is expected to begin operation in 2008. The companies plan to introduce the technology in other Swedish power plants after technical evaluation:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Because CO2 is recognised as the main greenhouse gas contributing to global warming, development of this technology is an important milestone towards reducing power industry carbon emissions. Alstom’s chilled ammonia technology uses ammonia to capture CO2 emissions that would normally escape into the atmosphere and holds great promise for achieving CO2 capture economically and with low energy loss.

According to Alstom, research suggests that chilled ammonia-based CO2 capture can remove up to 90% of the CO2 from flue gases. Although there are several proposed techniques that can separate carbon dioxide from the other gases, Alstom’s chilled ammonia process greatly reduces the amount of energy used to capture CO2.

This energy is referred to as the 'energy loss' because the plant’s energy output is reduced by the amount of energy needed to remove the CO2. Studies demonstrate that Alstom’s technology results in an energy loss of approximately 10% versus other methods of post-combustion CO2 separation, which result in losses of nearly 30%.

The Alstom/E.ON contract follows a similar agreement made between Alstom and AEP (American Electric Power) in the U.S. to develop a demonstration plant at a coal-fired power plant in West Virginia and has a start date of 2008. A full scale CO2 capture demonstration plant is scheduled to follow at an AEP site in Oklahoma in 2011.

The Alstom chilled ammonia CO2 capture technology will also be demonstrated with We Energies at a 15,000 tonnes per year pilot plant project at its Pleasant Prairie plant, Wisconsin, in the US.

With Statoil
Alstom's cooperation with Norwegian gas and oil company Statoil is aimed at testing the same post-combustion capture technique to remove CO2 from flue gases particular to natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) power plants.

The objective of the agreement covers the design and construction of a 40MW test and product validation facility at Statoil’s Mongstad refinery in Norway. This facility will be designed to capture at least 80,000 tons per year of CO2 from flue gases from the refinery’s cracker unit or from a new combined heat and power plant being built by Statoil and scheduled to be in operation by 2010. The test and product validation facility is expected to enter operation by 2009-2010 with the first operation and testing phase to last 12-18 months.

It is the intent of both parties that this facility will lead to technical advances and the construction of a larger CO2 capture unit that may eventually capture over 2 million tons per year of CO2 at Mongstad.

Alstom and Statoil have been cooperating, in addition to other parties including the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), in the development of the chilled ammonia CO2 capture technology since 2005.

With American Electric Power

The Statoil deal follows an agreement made between Alstom and AEP (American Electric Power) in the US to develop the technology for application on utility coal-fired boilers and to carry out a pilot. Initial research and development of the Alstom chilled ammonia CO2 capture technology has been jointly funded by Alstom, EPRI and Statoil.

Alstom and American Electric Power (AEP) earlier signed a Memorandum of Understanding to bring Alstom’s chilled ammonia process for CO2 capture to full commercial scale of up to 200 MW by 2011. It is described as a major step in demonstrating post-combustion carbon capture. The technology has the great advantage versus other technologies of being fully applicable not only for new power plants, but also for the retrofit of existing coal-fired power plants.

The project will be implemented in two phases. In phase one, Alstom and AEP will jointly develop a 30 MWth product validation that will capture CO2 from flue gas emitted from AEP’s 1300 MW Mountaineer Plant located in New Haven, West Virginia. It is targeted to capture up to 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year. The captured CO2 will be designated for geological storage in deep saline aquifers at the site. This pilot is scheduled for start-up at the end of 2008 and will operate for approximately 12-18 months (overview of the plant, first image, click to enlarge).

In phase two, Alstom will design, construct and commission a commercial scale of up to 200 MW CO2 capture system on one of the 450 MW coal-fired units at its Northeastern Station in Oologah, Oklahoma. The system is scheduled for start-up in late 2011. It is expected to capture about 1.5 million tonnes of CO2 a year, commercially validating this promising technology. The CO2 captured at Northeastern Station will be used for enhanced oil recovery.

CCS elsewhere
CCS is being developed in response to demands for the coal industry to clean up its act because it is the biggest emitter of climate destructive greenhouse gases. A United Nations expert group has called for more investments in CCS, a top NASA scientists has called for a moratorium on coal that should be lifted only when CCS techniques have become feasible, and the EU recently launched a public consultation on CCS because of growing concern amongst Europeans with climate change and the role of fossil fuels.

Actual CCS trials and projects are currently underway in Germany, France, the UK, the Netherlands and Australia.

Besides bioenergy with CCS, there is another, low-tech approach to creating carbon-negative biofuels. This involves the conversion of biomass into pyrolysis oil and biochar ('agrichar'). The bio-oil is used as a biofuel, whereas the biochar is sequestered in agricultural soils, which boosts the health of these soils and increases crop yields (more info in this text, and the further references there).

Image 1: Footprint of AEP's chilled ammonia process plant. Credit: AEP, Michael G. Morris: presentation of CCS technologies at the Morgan Stanley Global Electricity & Energy Conference, March 15, 2007, New York.

Image 2: Schematic of the chilled ammonia process. Credit: AEP, Michael G. Morris: presentation of CCS technologies at the Morgan Stanley Global Electricity & Energy Conference, March 15, 2007, New York.

Alstom: Alstom signs contract with global company E.ON to build chilled ammonia based CO2 capture plant in Sweden for oil and gas - 21 June 2007.

Alstom: Alstom and Statoil to jointly develop project for chilled ammonia-based CO2 capture for natural gas in Norway - 21 June 2007

Alstom: Alstom and American Electric Power sign agreement to bring CO2 capture technology to commercial scale by 2011 - 15 March 2007

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