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    PetroChina Co Ltd, the country's largest oil and gas producer, plans to invest 800 million yuan to build an ethanol plant in Nanchong, in the southwestern province of Sichuan, its parent China National Petroleum Corp said. The ethanol plant has a designed annual capacity of 100,000 tons. ABCMoneyNews - December 21, 2007.

    Mexico passed legislation to promote biofuels last week, offering unspecified support to farmers that grow crops for the production of any renewable fuel. Agriculture Minister Alberto Cardenas said Mexico could expand biodiesel faster than ethanol. More soon. Reuters - December 20, 2007.

    Oxford Catalysts has placed an order worth approximately €700,000 (US$1 million) with the German company Amtec for the purchase of two Spider16 high throughput screening reactors. The first will be used to speed up the development of catalysts for hydrodesulphurisation (HDS). The second will be used to further the development of catalysts for use in gas to liquid (GTL) and Fischer-Tropsch processes which can be applied to next generation biofuels. AlphaGalileo - December 18, 2007.

    According to the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE), Brazil's production of sugarcane will increase from 514,1 million tonnes this season, to a record 561,8 million tonnes in the 2008/09 cyclus - an increase of 9.3%. New numbers are also out for the 2007 harvest in Brazil's main sugarcane growing region, the Central-South: a record 425 million tonnes compared to 372,7 million tonnes in 2006, or a 14% increase. The estimate was provided by Unica – the União da Indústria de Cana-de-Açúcar. Jornal Cana - December 16, 2007.

    The University of East Anglia and the UK Met Office's Hadley Centre have today released preliminary global temperature figures for 2007, which show the top 11 warmest years all occurring in the last 13 years. The provisional global figure for 2007 using data from January to November, currently places the year as the seventh warmest on records dating back to 1850. The announcement comes as the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Michel Jarraud, speaks at the Conference of the Parties (COP) in Bali. Eurekalert - December 13, 2007.

    The Royal Society of Chemistry has announced it will launch a new journal in summer 2008, Energy & Environmental Science, which will distinctly address both energy and environmental issues. In recognition of the importance of research in this subject, and the need for knowledge transfer between scientists throughout the world, from launch the RSC will make issues of Energy & Environmental Science available free of charge to readers via its website, for the first 18 months of publication. This journal will highlight the important role that the chemical sciences have in solving the energy problems we are facing today. It will link all aspects of energy and the environment by publishing research relating to energy conversion and storage, alternative fuel technologies, and environmental science. AlphaGalileo - December 10, 2007.

    Dutch researcher Bas Bougie has developed a laser system to investigate soot development in diesel engines. Small soot particles are not retained by a soot filter but are, however, more harmful than larger soot particles. Therefore, soot development needs to be tackled at the source. Laser Induced Incandescence is a technique that reveals exactly where soot is generated and can be used by project partners to develop cleaner diesel engines. Terry Meyer, an Iowa State University assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is using similar laser technology to develop advanced sensors capable of screening the combustion behavior and soot characteristics specifically of biofuels. Eurekalert - December 7, 2007.

    Lithuania's first dedicated biofuel terminal has started operating in Klaipeda port. At the end of November 2007, the stevedoring company Vakaru krova (VK) started activities to manage transshipments. The infrastructure of the biodiesel complex allows for storage of up to 4000 cubic meters of products. During the first year, the terminal plans to transship about 70.000 tonnes of methyl ether, after that the capacities of the terminal would be increased. Investments to the project totaled €2.3 million. Agrimarket - December 5, 2007.

    New Holland supports the use of B100 biodiesel in all equipment with New Holland-manufactured diesel engines, including electronic injection engines with common rail technology. Overall, nearly 80 percent of the tractor and equipment manufacturer's New Holland-branded products with diesel engines are now available to operate on B100 biodiesel. Tractor and equipment maker John Deere meanwhile clarified its position for customers that want to use biodiesel blends up to B20. Grainnet - December 5, 2007.

    According to Wetlands International, an NGO, the Kyoto Protocol as it currently stands does not take into account possible emissions from palm oil grown on a particular type of land found in Indonesia and Malaysia, namely peatlands. Mongabay - December 5, 2007.

    Malaysia's oil & gas giant Petronas considers entering the biofuels sector. Zamri Jusoh, senior manager of Petronas' petroleum development management unit told reporters "of course our focus is on oil and gas, but I think as we move into the future we cannot ignore the importance of biofuels." AFP - December 5, 2007.

    In just four months, the use of biodiesel in the transport sector has substantially improved air quality in Metro Manila, data from the Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) showed. A blend of one percent coco-biodiesel is mandated by the Biofuels Act of 2007 which took effect last May. By 2009, it would be increased to two percent. Philippine Star - December 4, 2007.

    Kazakhstan will next year adopt laws to regulate its fledgling biofuel industry and plans to construct at least two more plants in the next 18 months to produce environmentally friendly fuel from crops, industry officials said. According to Akylbek Kurishbayev, vice-minister for agriculture, he Central Asian country has the potential to produce 300,000 tons a year of biodiesel and export half. Kazakhstan could also produce up to 1 billion liters of bioethanol, he said. "The potential is huge. If we use this potential wisely, we can become one of the world's top five producers of biofuels," Beisen Donenov, executive director of the Kazakhstan Biofuels Association, said on the sidelines of a grains forum. Reuters - November 30, 2007.

    SRI Consulting released a report on chemicals from biomass. The analysis highlights six major contributing sources of green and renewable chemicals: increasing production of biofuels will yield increasing amounts of biofuels by-products; partial decomposition of certain biomass fractions can yield organic chemicals or feedstocks for the manufacture of various chemicals; forestry has been and will continue to be a source of pine chemicals; evolving fermentation technology and new substrates will also produce an increasing number of chemicals. Chemical Online - November 27, 2007.

    German industrial conglomerate MAN AG plans to expand into renewable energies such as biofuels and solar power. Chief Executive Hakan Samuelsson said services unit Ferrostaal would lead the expansion. Reuters - November 24, 2007.

    Analysts think Vancouver-based Ballard Power Systems, which pumped hundreds of millions and decades of research into developing hydrogen fuel cells for cars, is going to sell its automotive division. Experts describe the development as "the death of the hydrogen highway". The problems with H2 fuel cell cars are manifold: hydrogen is a mere energy carrier and its production requires a primary energy input; production is expensive, as would be storage and distribution; finally, scaling fuel cells and storage tanks down to fit in cars remains a huge challenge. Meanwhile, critics have said that the primary energy for hydrogen can better be used for electricity and electric vehicles. On a well-to-wheel basis, the cleanest and most efficient way to produce hydrogen is via biomass, so the news is a set-back for the biohydrogen community. But then again, biomass can be used more efficiently as electricity for battery cars. Canada.com - November 21, 2007.

    South Korea plans to invest 20 billion won (€14.8/$21.8 million) by 2010 on securing technologies to develop synthetic fuels from biomass, coal and natural gas, as well as biobutanol. 29 private companies, research institutes and universities will join this first stage of the "next-generation clean energy development project" led by South Korea's Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy. Korea Times - November 19, 2007.

    OPEC leaders began a summit today with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez issuing a chilling warning that crude prices could double to US$200 from their already-record level if the United States attacked Iran or Venezuela. He urged assembled leaders from the OPEC, meeting for only the third time in the cartel's 47-year history, to club together for geopolitical reasons. But the cartel is split between an 'anti-US' block including Venezuela, Iran, and soon to return ex-member Ecuador, and a 'neutral' group comprising most Gulf States. France24 - November 17, 2007.

    The article "Biofuels: What a Biopact between North and South could achieve" published in the scientific journal Energy Policy (Volume 35, Issue 7, 1 July 2007, Pages 3550-3570) ranks number 1 in the 'Top 25 hottest articles'. The article was written by professor John A. Mathews, Macquarie University (Sydney, Autralia), and presents a case for a win-win bioenergy relationship between the industrialised and the developing world. Mathews holds the Chair of Strategic Management at the university, and is a leading expert in the analysis of the evolution and emergence of disruptive technologies and their global strategic management. ScienceDirect - November 16, 2007.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Green chemistry in Africa: scientists help Ethiopia leapfrogging into a clean future

At the Biopact, we share the Afro-optimist philosophy which holds that African countries can 'leapfrog' beyond the petroleum era and immediately enter a new bright green world without going through a dirty development stage first. This is possible because African countries are not burdened by fossil fuel based industries, mentalities and infrastructures.

Some may laugh at the idea, but University of Nottingham scientists are instrumental in gradually making the vision a reality: they are helping to establish the emerging field of green chemistry, in Ethiopia.

Green chemistry is a pioneering field of sustainable science that will help African nations to meet the complex challenges of the 21st century and to enter the era of the bioeconomy. Green chemistry focuses on greener ways of creating chemicals, and is now regarded as one of the major routes to more environmentally-friendly production of the chemicals that underpin modern society (earlier post).

The work of Nottingham academics with their colleagues in Ethiopia, detailed [*abstract] in the online version of the journal Science, began with a chance meeting four years ago. Today it is sufficiently developed to enable African scientists to participate more fully in the search for new chemicals, processes and techniques that could impact on millions of people.

In their article, the scientists summarize the value of green chemistry for Africa as follows:
Green Chemistry provides a unique opportunity for African chemists because it combines the search for new science with the development of sustainable chemical technologies appropriate to the needs of the community. Therefore, the resources of Africa — intense sunlight, unique plant species and enthusiastic young people — present its chemists with scientific opportunities, less readily available in many other countries. With modest funding and overseas support, a determined group of Ethiopian scientists has established an international presence within only four years. It is a model which perhaps can be replicated elsewhere. - Professor Poliakoff (Nothingham University), Dr Licence, Dr Asfaw and Dr Temechegn Engida, of Addis Ababa University.
Much current research is focused on the search for renewable, bio-based feedstocks and more environmentally acceptable solvents as replacements for petroleum-based products. This makes Green Chemistry particularly relevant to the needs of African countries such as Ethiopia, faced with an increasing demand for chemicals, little or no indigenous oil, and rapidly expanding populations:
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The collaboration started with a chance meeting between Dr Nigist Asfaw and Professor Martyn Poliakoff, who heads research into Green Chemistry at The University of Nottingham, while the latter was on holiday in Ethiopia.

Over the next four years, links were gradually developed and strengthened through staff visits, conferences, workshops and collaborative research. Today, the Ethiopian scientists have established an international presence and are on the brink of their first conference for chemists from across the whole of Africa.

Ethiopian PhD student Haregewine Tadesse is currently in the second year of her PhD in Dr Peter Licence’s research group at The University of Nottingham. Haregewine has made a very strong start, having already authored a high-profile scientific paper for publication and addressed a meeting of the RSC Archives for Africa at the Houses of Parliament. A second Ethiopian postgraduate, Mr Bitu Biru, is due to join in September to start a PhD in the subject.

Green chemistry is now well established at Addis Ababa University and the collaboration has led to a number of other key developments, notably:
  • The establishment of Addis Ababa University as an Overseas Chapter of the American Chemical Society, Green Chemistry Institute.
  • The formation of the Federation of African Societies of Chemistry, bringing together scientists from across Africa.
  • 1st Annual FASC conference to be held in Addis Ababa in September 2007 — with Green Chemistry as its theme.
  • Nottingham PhD student Haregewine Tadesse and Nottingham academic Dr Robert Mokaya, a Kenyan, spoke at the launch of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Archive for Africa. The launch of the Archive means that African scientists will have free access to the latest research published in key scientific journals.
  • Research and staff links between Nottingham and Addis Ababa University, including appointment of Dr Peter Licence as visiting professor, making extended visits to Addis Ababa to participate in teaching at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.
Professor Poliakoff and his colleagues write in Science: “Our collaboration has been intellectually rewarding for all of those involved and it has been particularly helpful in developing the careers of the younger participants. However, this was only possible because our Ethiopian colleagues had already built a strong chemistry department at their university. Having overseas scientists to champion their work on the international scene has clearly been valuable to the chemists in Ethiopia."

They conclude with a clear message: “We strongly urge other scientists to consider championing an African country so that their needs can be more loudly articulated in the international arena and their scientists empowered to meet the tremendous challenges of the future.”

Image: University of Nottingham scientists train and assist their Ethiopian collegues in establishing the emerging field of green chemistry at their universities.

Nigist Asfaw, Peter Licence, Temechegn Engida, Martyn Poliakoff, Empowering Green Chemists in Ethiopia [*abstract], Science, Published Online June 21, 2007, DOI: 10.1126/science.1144439

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EU opens tender to distill wine lakes into ethanol

The European Union has opened a tender to sell unwanted wine lakes in four countries for use in making bioethanol. The Commission Regulation N° 707/2007 [*.pdf] of June 21 was published in the Official Journal of the European Union.
A tendering procedure for the sale of wine alcohol for exclusive use as bioethanol in the fuel sector in the Community should be organised in accordance with [...] with a view to reducing Community stocks of wine alcohol and ensuring the continuity of supplies to firms.
The total volume put up for sale is 69,337,574 litres (18.3 million gallons) of alcohol stored in Greece, France, Italy and Spain, and broken down into lots of 50,000 hectoliters. The deadline for bids is July 5.

France, Italy and Spain are the EU’s largest winemakers by volume (overview) and receive generous amounts of cash from Brussels to distill some of their excess wine, both table and quality, into industrial alcohol or biofuel.

But EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel has said publicly that she favors abolishing this system of 'crisis distillation' - an emergency market tool used as a short-term measure to correct supply imbalances. Instead, she has presented four broad policy options for overhauling EU wine policy, with a formal reform proposal to be published on July 4.

Fischer Boel has repeatedly complained that the EU wine industry still depends too much on distillation to rid itself of unwanted 'wine lakes' at the taxpayers’ expense, saying a fundamental reform is needed to make EU wines more competitive.

The regulation comes at a time when wine makers in the EU face critical overproduction driven by a declining demand for table wine amongst Europeans and competitition from abroad, with continuously falling prices as a result (graph, click to enlarge). In one wine-growing region in France, the crisis is so deep that viticulteurs have even threatened to launch a true guerilla if the authorities do not help raise prices [entry ends here].
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Syntroleum and Tyson Foods to produce ultra-clean synthetic biofuels

Tyson Foods and Syntroleum Corporation, a Tulsa-based synthetic fuels technology company, will today announce the formation of Dynamic Fuels LLC, which will produce ultra-clean synthetic biofuels targeting the renewable diesel, jet, and military fuel markets.

The 50/50 venture intends to construct and operate multiple stand-alone commercial facilities capable of producing ultra-clean, high quality, next generation renewable synthetic fuels using Syntroleum's patented Biofining process. This 'flexible feed/flexible synthetic fuels' technology will use feedstock primarily derived from animal fats, greases, and vegetable oils to be supplied by Tyson.

The first biomass-to-liquids (BtL) facility will produce about 75 million gallons (284 million liters) of synthetic fuel annually. Construction of this initial facility is expected to start in 2008 at a yet-to-be-determined site in the south central United States, with production targeted for 2010. The US$150 million project will generate approximately 250 short-term construction jobs and 65 highly skilled permanent jobs.

Dynamic Fuels will leverage Syntroleum's proprietary work done in producing synthetic fuel and developing synthetic fuel standards for the U.S. Air Force and the Department of Defense (earlier post).

The synthetic biofuels produced by the venture are superior to petroleum fuels on many levels. These are some of their properties:
  • higher cetane levels, which are a measure of combustion quality; significantly lower Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) and near zero sulfur compared to petroleum fuels; synthetic BtL fuels have the same fuel properties as coal-to-liquids (CtL) and gas-to-liquids (GtL) fuels
  • provide superior thermal stability, making it effective for advanced military applications
  • higher energy content, better cold flow properties enabling it to function effectively in cold weather
  • reduced carbon dioxide emissions
  • the unblended fuel can be used in existing diesel engines with no engine modifications required and is completely compatible with existing pipelines, storage facilities and other conventional fuel infrastructures
  • further, the synthetic fuel may be blended with petroleum based diesel and/or conventional biodiesel to help those fuels achieve superior environmental and performance characteristics
  • the biofuel can be upgraded into ultra-clean, high quality synthetic jet fuel
Synthetic biofuels are obtained from a two stage process which consists of the gasification of biomass to obtain hydrogen and carbon monoxide synthesis gas. After cleaning it, the gas is then liquefied via the Fischer-Tropsch (FT) process in a reactor. Syntroleum's FT-reactors (image, click to enlarge) are indifferent to the source of the syngas:
:: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The companies will each contribute 50 percent of the estimated US$150 million dollar cost of the project over the next two and a half years, with the primary contributions coming in fiscal year 2008 and 2009. Annual operating profits, which are anticipated to begin in fiscal year 2010 for Dynamic Fuels, will be driven by market fundamentals such as fuel markets, feedstock markets and government support, and are forecast between $35 and $60 million:
Tyson's venture with Syntroleum represents another significant step forward in our strategy of leveraging Tyson's access to animal by-products, our trading skills, and industry relationships to become a premier player in renewable energy. We believe this venture will add value to our business, give animal agriculture another opportunity to participate in the production of renewable fuels and is also an environmentally sound way to contribute to America's energy security. - Richard L. Bond, Tyson president and CEO
As the world's largest producer and marketer of chicken, beef and pork, Tyson produces large by-product volumes of various grades of animal fats, such as beef tallow, pork lard, chicken fat, and greases which can be utilized as renewable feedstock for this venture. Drawing on Tyson's decades of applied protein chemistry experience, the feedstock mix will be pre-processed and optimized for the facilities.

Tyson also intends to use its significant procurement capabilities, industry relationships, and experience in commodity trading and risk avoidance to access feedstocks from other sources. Tyson will also utilize its transportation and logistics team, as well as its truck, rail and barge assets, to coordinate the cost effective movement of the feedstocks to fuel production facilities.
Our venture with Tyson affords us the opportunity to apply part of our established portfolio of technologies to produce next generation ultra-clean renewable synthetic fuels that contribute to our nation's energy independence while helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Tyson organization is a world class company committed to establishing a new benchmark in the renewable fuels industry, and we are proud to combine our Biofining(tm) technology with their resources in this new venture. - Jack Holmes, CEO of Syntroleum
Syntroleum's research and development work, leveraging its gas-to-liquid technology expertise, has already resulted in multiple patent applications related to its Biofining(tm) technology for renewable feedstocks. The company's additional pioneering research has targeted an expansion into full biomass-to-liquid fuel production, which could potentially incorporate cellulosic biomass, animal waste and other organic materials.

Syntroleum brochure [*.pdf] on its CtL, GtL and BtL technologies.

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Chile's first CDM project based on biomass avoids 500,000 tons of CO2 emissions

CantorCO2e Limited, a provider of financial services to the world’s environmental and energy markets, announced today their facilitation of a groundbreaking transaction involving the first biomass Clean Development Mechanism (“CDM”) Project in Chile.

The multi-million dollar transaction involving contracts between Celulosa Arauco y Constitución SA (Arauco), the largest forestry company in Latin America, and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), one of the leading electricity generation companies in Japan, will see Arauco sell emissions reductions created from the biomass project to TEPCO.

The transaction will result in the creation of green energy through the burning of sustainable biomass (wood waste) which will then be dispatched to the Chilean electricity grid, thereby reducing CO2 and methane emissions in the order of 500,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent whilst using the latest and cleanest technology available. Much of the biomass will come from Arauco’s own pine plantations and none of it is taken from native forest, of which Arauco owns 400,000 hectares.

The project is one of the largest Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects involving biomass to have been agreed under the provisions of the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty signed in 1997 to address and manage global climate change issues. The CDM is a market-based mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol to encourage commercial investment in sustainable development projects in emerging economies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The deal comes at an important time for Chilean industry as it looks to decrease its dependence on natural gas imported from Argentina, which has, until now, been the only economically viable alternative to climate-destructive fuels such as coal and diesel. Although this project is substantial in size, biomass currently accounts for only 1.5% of power transmitted on the Chilean Power Grid and so the growth potential is significant:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

CantorCO2e brings much experience to the project and as broker has been instrumental in developing the right methodology, validation, registration and verification for the project. The project is one of many brokered by CantorCO2e to help mitigate the effects of climate change using market mechanisms.

Arauco is one of the largest forestry enterprises in Latin America in terms of surface area and yield of its plantations, production of market kraft woodpulp, and production of sawntimber and panels. It is organized into four strategic business areas: Forestry, Woodpulp, Sawntimber, and Panels.

The company made headlines a few years ago for its construction of a large pulp plant which provoked protest by local communities (more, here).

The Tokyo Electric Power Co., Inc (TEPCO) supplies power to more than 27 million customers in Tokyo and the surrounding Tokyo Metropolitan Area, which accounts to nearly one third of the total power consumption of Japan. TEPCO is one of the world’s largest private power companies and has more than 60GW of generating capacity.

An overview of the project from TEPCO's point of view [*.pdf / Japanese].

CantorCO2e: CantorCO2e Facilitates First Ever Biomass Emissions Reduction Project in Chile - June 21, 2007.

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Galp Energia and Sonangol to develop biofuels in Angola, 200,000 hectare project

From Portugal comes another signal [*Portuguese] of what looks like an emerging 'biopact' between the North and the South, albeit one mainly driven by the private sector. The country's leading integrated oil and natural gas company, Galp Energia, over the next few months plans to move ahead with a project to develop biofuels in Angola, in a partnership with the state-owned Sociedade Nacional de Combustíveis de Angola (Sonangol) and local farmers, the Portuguese company’s chief executive, Fernando Gomes said in Porto.

Angola is one of the countries that make Africa the potentially largest producer of sustainable biofuels in the future (see the continent's long-term potential). A rough but low estimate shows that Angola's export potential in 2050, after the rapidly rising food, fuel, fodder and fiber needs for its growing population are fully met and without deforestation or the use of land protected for conservation, is around 6 Exajoules per year, the equivalent of 2.7 million barrels of oil per day (earlier post). Angola, one of Africa's largest oil producers, currently pumps up some 1.6 million bpd of crude oil.

Gomes, who was speaking on the sidelines of a seminar on economic relations between Portugal and Angola declined to give a figure for investment in the project, noting that the project would involve the establishment of energy plantations on 200,000 hectares.
In the short term, biofuels offer a major field for investment. The relationship that exists between Galp and Sonangol, mediated by the Angolan government, will allow us to advance very strongly over the coming months in kickstarting a biofuels project in the country. - Fernando Gomes, CEO of Galp Energia
The model for development Sonangol is aiming for in this project is a partnership with Sonangol and local farmers, Gomes said, adding that negotiations were still underway with Sonangol and with the Angolan government to set the final model used:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

According to Gomes, the current harmony between Galp and Sonangol made it possible to develop projects that had previously been impossible, noting that the Angolan oil company was now a Galp shareholder and that its chairman, Manuel Vicente was a non-executive director of the Portuguese company’s board of directors.

Amongst the business that is now possible is an increase in Galp’s involvement in the fuel distribution business in Angola, via Sonangalp, a company that is part-owned by Galp and Sonangol. Gomes said that Galp has already invested around US$850 million in the Angolan oil sector, which made it the biggest Portuguese investor in the country.

The Lusophone world, led by Brazil and Portugal, is very active in exploring Africa's biofuel and bioenergy future, with concrete investments being made in both Mozambique and Angola (more here). One of those is a project involving the establishment of a 20,000 hectare palm plantation for biofuels in the north-western Bengo province, by Afriagro (previous post).


Lusa Agência: Petrolífera lusa anuncia projeto de biodiesel em Angola - June 25, 2007.

MacauHub: Portugal’s Galp Energia and Angola’s Sonangol develop biofuels in Angola - June 25, 2007.

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Scientists call for global push to advance synthetic biology - biofuels to benefit

With research backgrounds ranging from materials engineering to molecular biophysics, seventeen leading scientists from around the world issued a statement today announcing that, much as the discovery of DNA and creation of the transistor revolutionized science, the scientific field known as 'synthetic biology' is on the brink of revolutionizing our approach to problems ranging from eco-safe energy to outbreaks of malaria. The announcement comes days after the first procedure to create a synthetic organism was patented - and criticized (earlier post).

Synthetic biology comes down to the construction or redesign of biological systems components that do not naturally exist, by combining the engineering applications and practices of nanoscience with molecular biology.

The two-page text - called the Ilulissat Statement [*.pdf] - calls for an international effort to advance synthetic biology that would not only propel research, but do so while developing protective measures against accidents and abuses of synthetic biology. Biofuels are cited as a prime example of how synthetic biology help can solve future energy crises:
The early twenty-first century is a time of tremendous promise and tremendous peril. We face daunting problems of climate change, energy, health, and water resources. Synthetic biology offers solutions to these issues: microorganisms that convert plant matter to fuels or that synthesize new drugs or target and destroy rogue cells in the body. - Ilulissat Statement
The statement was issued following the conclusion of the first Kavli Futures Symposium with the futuristic title ‘The merging of bio and nano: towards cyborg cells’, held June 11-15 in Ilulissat, Greenland. Signed unanimously, signatories include scientists from the California Institute of Technology, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Cornell University, J. Craig Venter Institute, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the Institute for Advanced Study, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University, Stanford University, and University of California at Berkeley (United States); Ecole Normale Superieure (France); Delft University of Technology (The Netherlands); Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, TU Dresden (Germany); Weizman Institute of Science (Israel); Systems Biology Institute, and Sony Computer Science Laboratories (Japan).
When we gathered at the Kavli Futures Symposium, researchers — among the best in their fields — in areas such as nanoscience, physics, biology, materials science and engineering met to share their expertise and brainstorm on one of the most promising yet controversial fields facing science today. That we not only achieved a consensus, but resolved to issue a unanimous statement on the critical importance of this field is significant. - Cees Dekker, professor of molecular biophysics in the Kavli Institute of NanoScience at the Delft University of Technology
The Ilulissat Statement addresses some of the uncertainties of synthetic biology:
As with any powerful technology, the promise comes with risk. We need to develop protective measures against accidents and abuses of synthetic biology. A system of best practices must be established to foster positive uses of the technology and suppress negative ones. The risks are real; but the potential benefits are truly extraordinary.
The statement's recommendations include creation of a professional organization that will engage with the broader society to maximize the benefits, minimize the risks, and oversee the ethics of synthetic life:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

"This is a critical moment for synthetic biology," said Paul McEuen, professor of physics, Cornell University. "The choices facing us now — the scientific investments we make and the rules we set down to govern the field — will impact society for decades to come."

The symposium was sponsored by The Kavli Foundation and co-hosted and organized by The Kavli Institute at Cornell for Nanoscience and The Kavli Institute of Nanoscience at Delft University of Technology.
This is the first of a series of unique symposia that focus on the trends, challenges and opportunities for future scientific research. By emphasizing a forward looking perspective, the Kavli Futures Symposia provide a forum for discussion of the key issues facing future developments and directions in specific fields, and thereby help to define and guide the development of the research in these fields. - David Auston, president of the Kavli Foundation.
The full list of signatories to the Ilullisast Statement on synthetic biology includes scientists who have been working on bioenergy and biofuels:

France: David Bensimon, Ecole Normale Superieure
Germany: Joe Howard, Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics
Petra Schwille, TU Dresden
Israel: Ehud Shapiro, Weizman Institute of Science
Japan: Hiroaki Kitano, Systems Biology Institute, and Sony Computer Science Laboratories
The Netherlands: Cees Dekker, Delft University of Technology
United States: Robert Austin, Princeton University; Angela Belcher, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Steven Chu; Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; Freeman Dyson, Institute for Advanced Study; Drew Endy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; ;Scott Fraser, California Institute of Technology; John Glass, J. Craig Venter Institute; Robert Hazen, Carnegie Institution of Washington; Jay Keasling, University of California at Berkeley; Paul McEuen, Cornell University; Julie Theriot, Stanford University.

Image: the Escherichia coli bacterium, one of the many microorganisms used in synthetic biology experiments.

Ilulissat Statement: Synthesizing the Future a vision for the convergence of synthetic biology and nanotechnology [*.pdf], signed at the Kavli Futures Symposium ‘The merging of bio and nano: towards cyborg cells’, 11-15 June 2007, Ilulissat, Greenland.

Kavli Foundation: Scientists Call for Global Push to Advance Research in Synthetic Biology - June 25, 2007.

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The bioeconomy at work: Braskem develops polyethylene from sugarcane ethanol

Braskem, the leading company in Latin America's thermoplastic resins segment and Brazil's second largest privately owned industrial company, announces it has produced the first internationally certified polyethylene made from sugarcane ethanol. Given the fact that petroleum-derived polyethylene is so widely used in our daily lives, this may be called an important breakthrough for the bioeconomy. 60 million tonnes per year of the polymer end up in hundreds of plastic products. We now have a bio-based, renewable alternative with a low carbon footprint.

Brazil has been ahead of most other countries in the development of a genuine bioeconomy in which oil-based products are replaced by renewable carbohydrate and vegetable oil based substitutes. Government initiative (with a fund of almost US$5 billion for the bioeconomy) as well as an innovative private sector that is being supported by a growing number of green scientists and agronomists, is leading to a real revolution that goes beyond mere ethanol.

Sugarcane remains key and is only gradually beginning to reveal its potential to yield products other than liquid biofuels. The humble crop is a goldmine of potential green chemistry products, ranging from bioplastics, detergents, tinctures, drugs, glues, gels, biopolymers and a whole range of molecules and platform chemicals. Major science organisations and companies are now investing in the production of bioplastics from sugarcane (amongst them the University of Queensland, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and Metabolix.)

The good thing is that the crop thrives in developing countries, who know they now have a resource in hand that allows them to leapfrog beyond the petroleum era. In the future, they will rely on highly integrated biorefineries that convert biomass into a wealth of fuels, green chemicals and energy. A glimpse of this future in developing countries already comes from the tiny island state of Réunion, where scarce research resources are being invested in sugarcane based green chemistry and biorefineries (earlier post).

Certifiably green
The green polymer developed by Braskem - a high-density polyethylene (HDPE), one of the resins most widely used in flexible packagings - is the result of a research and development project that has already received some US$ 5 million in investment. Part of this amount was allocated to implementing a pilot unit for the production of ethane, which is the basis for the production of polyethylene, from renewable feedstock at the Braskem Technology and Innovation Center, which is already producing sufficient quantities for commercial development of the product.

The certification of the ethanol based biopolymer was conducted by a leading international laboratory, Beta Analytic, which certified that the product contained 100% renewable raw materials. This development by Braskem is aligned with its technological and innovation strategy and its commitment to fostering sustainable development, fulfilling the expectations of both Brazilian and international society for initiatives that contribute to reducing the greenhouse effect.
The leadership of Braskem in the green polyethylene project confirms our commitment to innovation and sustainable development, and creates a very favorable outlook for the development of plastic products made from renewable raw materials, a field in which Brazil has natural competitive advantages. - José Carlos Grubisich, Braskem CEO
The production of plastics from ethanol seeks to supply the main international markets that require products with superior performance and quality, in particular the automotive, food-packaging, cosmetics and personal-hygiene industries. Evaluations conducted in the initial phase of the project ascertained enormous potential for growth and appreciation in the green polymer market. Since both resins are equal in terms of properties and performance, the plastics manufacturing industry should benefit from this important development with no need to invest in new industrial equipment:
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The project is now in technical and economic specification process and the startup of green polyethylene production on an industrial scale is expected in late 2009. The new unit will have modern technology and competitive scale, and could reach an annual production capacity of up to 200,000 tonnes. The location and industrial design of the unit will be determined within the next few months.

"Braskem is extremely proud to be at the forefront of a technological breakthrough that aligns the interests of the company, our shareholders, clients and consumers, and that above all else is a great source of pride among Brazilians", concludes Grubisich.

The number of bio-based platform chemicals is growing steadily. We now have replacements for virtually all basic compounds used most commonly in the petrochemical industry as far as plastics are concerned. Green alternatives now exist for some major types of plastic: for low and high density polyethylene (LDPE/HDPE) and polypropylene (PP), polyethylene teraphthalate (PET), and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). In fact, in several cases, the bio-based alternatives outperform their petroleum rivals on many properties (for an example, see Rilsan, a very robust castor bean oil based polyamide).

Braskem: Braskem has the first certified green Polyethylene in the World - June 21, 2007.

For the properties of high density polyethylene, see its profile at MatWeb.

An overview of processing techniques and applications of HDPE, at Braskem.

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