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    Italy's Enel is to invest around €400 mln in carbon capture and storage and is looking now for a suitable site to store CO2 underground. Enel's vision of coal's future is one in which coal is used to produce power, to produce ash and gypsum as a by-product for cement, hydrogen as a by-product of coal gasification and CO2 which is stored underground. Carbon capture and storage techniques can be applied to biomass and biofuels, resulting in carbon-negative energy. Reuters - October 22, 2007.

    Gate Petroleum Co. is planning to build a 55 million-gallon liquid biofuels terminal in Jacksonville, Florida. The terminal is expected to cost $90 million and will be the first in the state designed primarily for biofuels. It will receive and ship ethanol and biodiesel via rail, ship and truck and provide storage for Gate and for third parties. The biofuels terminal is set to open in 2010. Florida Times-Union - October 19, 2007.

    China Holdings Inc., through its controlled subsidiary China Power Inc., signed a development contract with the HeBei Province local government for the rights to develop and construct 50 MW of biomass renewable energy projects utilizing straw. The projects have a total expected annual power generating capacity of 400 million kWh and expected annual revenues of approximately US$33.3 million. Total investment in the projects is approximately US$77.2 million, 35 percent in cash and 65 percent from China-based bank loans with preferred interest rates with government policy protection for the biomass renewable energy projects. Full production is expected in about two years. China Holdings - October 18, 2007.

    Canadian Bionenergy Corporation, supplier of biodiesel in Canada, has announced an agreement with Renewable Energy Group, Inc. to partner in the construction of a biodiesel production facility near Edmonton, Alberta. The company broke ground yesterday on the construction of the facility with an expected capacity of 225 million litres (60 million gallons) per year of biodiesel. Together, the companies also intend to forge a strategic marketing alliance to better serve the North American marketplace by supplying biodiesel blends and industrial methyl esters. Canadian Bioenergy - October 17, 2007.

    Leading experts in organic solar cells say the field is being damaged by questionable reports about ever bigger efficiency claims, leading the community into an endless and dangerous tendency to outbid the last report. In reality these solar cells still show low efficiencies that will need to improve significantly before they become a success. To counter the hype, scientists call on the community to press for independent verification of claimed efficiencies. Biopact sees a similar trend in the field of biofuels from algae, in which press releases containing unrealistic yield projections and 'breakthroughs' are released almost monthly. Eurekalert - October 16, 2007.

    The Colorado Wood Utilization and Marketing Program at Colorado State University received a $65,000 grant from the U.S. Forest Service to expand the use of woody biomass throughout Colorado. The purpose of the U.S. Department of Agriculture grant program is to provide financial assistance to state foresters to accelerate the adoption of woody biomass as an alternative energy source. Colorado State University - October 12, 2007.

    Indian company Naturol Bioenergy Limited announced that it will soon start production from its biodiesel facility at Kakinada, in the state of Andhra Pradesh. The facility has an annual production capacity of 100,000 tons of biodiesel and 10,000 tons of pharmaceutical grade glycerin. The primary feedstock is crude palm oil, but the facility was designed to accomodate a variety of vegetable oil feedstocks. Biofuel Review - October 11, 2007.

    Brazil's state energy company Petrobras says it will ship 9 million liters of ethanol to European clients next month in its first shipment via the northeastern port of Suape. Petrobras buys the biofuel from a pool of sugar cane processing plants in the state of Pernambuco, where the port is also located. Reuters - October 11, 2007.

    Dynamotive Energy Systems Corporation, a leader in biomass-to-biofuel technology, announces that it has completed a $10.5 million equity financing with Quercus Trust, an environmentally oriented fund, and several other private investors. Ardour Capital Inc. of New York served as financial advisor in the transaction. Business Wire - October 10, 2007.

    Cuban livestock farmers are buying distillers dried grains (DDG), the main byproduct of corn based ethanol, from biofuel producers in the U.S. During a trade mission of Iowan officials to Cuba, trade officials there said the communist state will double its purchases of the dried grains this year. DesMoines Register - October 9, 2007.

    Brasil Ecodiesel, the leading Brazilian biodiesel producer company, recorded an increase of 57.7% in sales in the third quarter of the current year, in comparison with the previous three months. Sales volume stood at 53,000 cubic metres from August until September, against 34,000 cubic metres of the biofuel between April and June. The company is also concluding negotiations to export between 1,000 to 2,000 tonnes of glycerine per month to the Asian market. ANBA - October 4, 2007.

    PolyOne Corporation, the US supplier of specialised polymer materials, has opened a new colour concentrates manufacturing plant in Kutno, Poland. Located in central Poland, the new plant will produce colour products in the first instance, although the company says the facility can be expanded to handle other products. In March, the Ohio-based firm launched a range of of liquid colourants for use in bioplastics in biodegradable applications. The concentrates are European food contact compliant and can be used in polylactic acid (PLA) or starch-based blends. Plastics & Rubber Weekly - October 2, 2007.

    A turbo-charged, spray-guided direct-injection engine running on pure ethanol (E100) can achieve very high specific output, and shows “significant potential for aggressive engine downsizing for a dedicated or dual-fuel solution”, according to engineers at Orbital Corporation. GreenCarCongress - October 2, 2007.

    UK-based NiTech Solutions receives £800,000 in private funding to commercialize a cost-saving industrial mixing system, dubbed the Continuous Oscillatory Baffled Reactor (COBR), which can lower costs by 50 per cent and reduce process time by as much as 90 per cent during the manufacture of a range of commodities including chemicals, drugs and biofuels. Scotsman - October 2, 2007.

    A group of Spanish investors is building a new bioethanol plant in the western region of Extremadura that should be producing fuel from maize in 2009. Alcoholes Biocarburantes de Extremadura (Albiex) has already started work on the site near Badajoz and expects to spend €42/$59 million on the plant in the next two years. It will produce 110 million litres a year of bioethanol and 87 million kg of grain byproduct that can be used for animal feed. Europapress - September 28, 2007.

    Portuguese fuel company Prio SA and UK based FCL Biofuels have joined forces to launch the Portuguese consumer biodiesel brand, PrioBio, in the UK. PrioBio is scheduled to be available in the UK from 1st November. By the end of this year (2007), says FCL Biofuel, the partnership’s two biodiesel refineries will have a total capacity of 200,000 tonnes which will is set to grow to 400,000 tonnes by the end of 2010. Biofuel Review - September 27, 2007.

    According to Tarja Halonen, the Finnish president, one third of the value of all of Finland's exports consists of environmentally friendly technologies. Finland has invested in climate and energy technologies, particularly in combined heat and power production from biomass, bioenergy and wind power, the president said at the UN secretary-general's high-level event on climate change. Newroom Finland - September 25, 2007.

    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 26, 2007

Cuba to assist Nigeria with ethanol production, agriculture

Quicknote bioenergy cooperation
Despite Fidel Castro's criticism of ethanol made from corn (mainly aimed at the US), Cuba itself is investing heavily in producing the biofuel (earlier post). The island state sees it as a way to revive its once thriving sugarcane sector, and to boost its energy security.

The country has had a long history of growing and researching the crop as well as in studying ways to convert it into energy. But years of neglect and the collapse of the Soviet Union (which bought sugar in exchange for fuel), has brought the sector to a standstill. At its best, Cuba produced a massive 10 million tonnes of sugar per year, in 2006 output was less than 1.6 million tonnes. Biofuels offer a unique opportunity to breathe new life into the industry.

The Cuban government now says it is ready to transfer its sugarcane-based ethanol technology to Nigeria, in a South-South cooperation effort.

Elio Olivia, the Cuban Ambassador to Nigeria, told reporters that his country was not only prepared to share its expertise in the production of varieties of sugarcane, but also in the production of alternative sources of energy with Nigeria. Besides sugarcane ethanol, cassava-to-ethanol technologies would be shared as well.

Nigeria is the world's largest producer of the starch rich crop, and "will benefit from such an exercise at both the federal and state levels," Olivia thinks. The African country used to export cassava for use as animal feed to the EU. But a new policy there, which boosted subsidies for European grain farmers, caused the sector in Nigeria to collapse. Biofuels are seen as a new outlet for the abundant crop - as is stressed in Nigeria's Presidential Cassava Initiative.

Cuba and Nigeria are set to hold a session for the Nigeria-Cuba Joint Economic Commission, a bilateral economic cooperation promoting body attended by officials of both countries to discuss possible areas of partnership. The meeting is to be held in Nigeria's capital Abuja in November [entry ends here].
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Engineers convert glycerin efficiently into ethanol, green chemicals via anaerobic fermentation

With biodiesel production in the EU and the US at an all-time high and a record number of new biodiesel plants under construction, the industry is facing an impending crisis over waste glycerin, the major byproduct of biodiesel production. New findings from Rice University suggest a possible answer in the form of the Escherichia Coli bacterium that anaerobically ferments glycerin into ethanol and valuable green chemicals. The efficiency of the conversion process is such that the researchers estimate operational costs to be 40% lower than first generation corn ethanol production.

The breakthrough fits nicely in the emerging concept of the integrated biorefinery that draws on an optimal cascading strategy in which waste-streams from one production process become feedstock for the creation of high value products based on other conversion processes.

For each tonne of biodiesel produced, around 100 kilograms of glycerin (glycerol) is obtained as a byproduct. The vast amount of glycerin that is now flooding the market has turned it from a valuable co-product into a 'waste' stream. This trend has prompted many researchers to find efficient and cost-effective ways to use the resource. So far they found that it can be turned into new types of biopolymers, bioplastic films, and green specialty chemicals such as propylene glycol. Others found glycerin makes for a suitable cattle and poultry feed or for the production of biogas.

Anaerobic fermentation
While some of these researchers are looking at traditional chemical processing - finding a way to catalyze reactions that break glycerin into other chemicals - others, including the Rice scientists, are focused on biological conversion. In biological conversion, researchers engineer a microorganism that can eat a specific chemical feedstock and excrete something useful. One of those biological conversion techniques is called anaerobic fermentation, and oxygen-free process widely used to produce biogas and some drugs. Anaerobic fermentation is the most economical and widely used process for biological conversion.

In a review article [*abstract] in the June issue of Current Opinion in Biotechnology, Ramon Gonzalez, William Akers Assistant Professor in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, points out that very few microorganisms are capable of digesting glycerin in such an oxygen-free environment. But they found a way to make the E. Coli bacterium do the job - efficiently and cost effectively.
We identified the metabolic processes and conditions that allow a known strain of E. coli to convert glycerin into ethanol. It's also very efficient. We estimate the operational costs to be about 40 percent less that those of producing ethanol from corn. - Ramon Gonzalez, lead author and William Akers Assistant Professor in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Rice University
Glycerin glut
Gonzalez says the biodiesel industry's rapid growth has created a glycerin glut. The glut has forced glycerin producers like Dow Chemical and Procter and Gamble to shutter plants, and Gonzalez said some biodiesel producers are already unable to sell glycerin and instead must pay to dispose of it:
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One pound of glycerin is produced for every 10 pounds of biodiesel. The biodiesel business has tight margins, and until recently, glycerin was a valuable commodity, one that producers counted on selling to ensure profitability. - Ramon Gonzalez, William Akers Assistant Professor in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
The discovery comes at a time when the chemical processing industry is increasingly finding bioprocessing to be a "greener," and sometimes cheaper, alternative to chemical processing.

"We are confident that our findings will enable the use of E. coli to anaerobically produce ethanol and other products from glycerin with higher yields and lower costs than can be obtained using common sugar-based feedstocks like glucose and xylose," Gonzalez concluded.

The bioconversion technique is yet another example of the potential for integrated biorefineries that draw on an optimal cascading strategy in which waste-streams from different conversion processes become new feedstocks for other products. The implementation of biorefineries is aimed at co-producing as many high value products along with biofuels in a highly integrated way.

The report in Current Opinion in Biotechnology was co-authored by postdoctoral research associate Syed Shams Yazdani. Graduate students Yandi Dharmadi and Abhishek Murarka assisted with the research. Gonzalez's research is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Science Foundation.

: Because of its ubiquity, E. coli is frequently studied in microbiology and is the current "workhorse" in molecular biology. Its is widely used in genetic engineering and enzymes extracted from it are used industrial fermentation processes.


Syed Shams Yazdania and Ramon Gonzaleza, "Anaerobic fermentation of glycerol: a path to economic viability for the biofuels industry" [*abstract], Current Opinion in Biotechnology, Volume 18, Issue 3, June 2007, Pages 213-219, doi:10.1016/j.copbio.2007.05.002

Eurekalert: Biotech breakthrough could end biodiesel's glycerin glut - June 26, 2007.

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Scientists develop device to replace distillation, increases energy efficiency of ethanol production

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists in California have developed a new device that could replace the classic distillation process used to obtain ethanol from fermented biomass. The patent-pending technology could cut the energy costs of producing ethanol.

Chemical engineers Richard D. Offeman and George H. Robertson at the ARS Western Regional Research Center in Albany, Calif., think it may be possible to increase the efficiency of ethanol production by using a series of specially designed permeable plastic sheets, or membranes, to produce ethanol from fermented broths of corn, or straw and other kinds of biomass feedstocks.

The researchers' invention, called a spiral-wound liquid membrane module (illustration, click to enlarge), could potentially replace the widely used process of distilling ethanol from fermentation broths. The module offers ethanol producers the important advantage of combining two separation processes, extraction and membrane permeation, in one piece of equipment.

In brief, the process works as follows: the fermentation broth — typically containing about 5 to 12 percent ethanol — would travel through a sandwich-like configuration of membranes and mesh sheets, called spacers, that keep the membranes separate from each other. One membrane has a solvent in its pores that extracts the ethanol from the broth. A second membrane, with the help of a vacuum, pulls the ethanol out of the solvent. The ethanol-and-water vapor that results is then, in other equipment, condensed into an ethanol-rich liquid. The leftover broth could be processed into byproducts:
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With further research and development, the module would require less energy than distillation. Today, energy costs are ethanol producers' second largest expense; feedstocks are first.

The scientists have applied for a patent. They now plan to build and fine-tune a prototype, then turn it over to a membrane manufacturer for further development before commercialization.

Already, some ethanol producers have expressed interest in the invention. The technology will help to address the serious concern regarding the energy efficiency of bioethanol production, according to Robert L. Fireovid, ARS national program leader for process engineering and chemistry.

The device has other potential uses, such as cleaning up wastewater or treating natural gas for home use.

Image: Bioethanol is taken out of an incoming fermentation broth using this spiral-wound liquid membrane module. The broth flows across the surface of specially designed permeable plastic membranes that are wrapped around the module's perforated collection tube. Ethanol in the broth is separated by the membranes, using a vacuum, then sent to other equipment to be condensed into liquid. Courtesy: Richard D. Offeman and George H. Robertson, USDA-ARS.

USDA ARS: New Technology Could Lead to More Energy-Efficient Ethanol Production - June 27, 2007.

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Modern bioenergy can 'liberate' China's farmers , but pro-poor policy needed

We have often pointed to the potential modern bioenergy offers for rural poverty alleviation. Around 2 billion people in the developing world still rely on primitive, dangerous and wasteful biomass technologies for energy (like burning fuel wood on open fires). However, the very presence of these resources makes leapfrogging beyond fossil fuels and towards modern biofuels possible.

Dr Lin Gan, senior research fellow at CICERO (Center for International Climate and Environmental Research - Oslo) and former director of climate and energy programs for World Wide Fund for Nature in China, explores this vision in an interesting essay written for the Asia Times. He thinks modern bioenergy can 'liberate' the hundreds of millions of Chinese farmers who do not enjoy much of the country's growing prosperity. But this requires an appropriate, socially responsible bioenergy and biofuels policy:

Environmental and social costs of development
China is in a rapid transition toward industrialization and integration into the world economy. However, this development has had a high price, particularly on the environment, and has put heavy pressure on local energy resources and ecosystems.

In addition, the gap in income and living standards between urban and rural areas, and between the eastern and western regions of China, has widened and the unemployment rate is increasing. Many are concerned that long-term prosperity of the country maybe harmed by these social disparities. It is projected that unemployment will grow to 100 million people by 2010, and most of it will be in the poor western regions, where farmers are desperately seeking to survive and create better lives for their families. It is clear China will have to look for alternative solutions to develop its agriculture sector, as some 900 million farmers depend on it.

Agriculture in China has developed at a much slower pace than industry over the past two decades, which has led to increasing disparity between rural and urban residents. The majority of the migrant workers from the agriculture sector come to cities for economic reasons: the loss of their lands to urban expansion, increased mechanization in agricultural production, and low income from selling agricultural products.

In particular, major challenges to sustainable rural development occur in the western regions, where severe problems co-exist. Farmers lag in income behind those in the coastal regions; ecosystems are vulnerable; poverty is still a social problem; the majority of the farmers still rely on traditional use of agricultural residues, forest biomass or coal for cooking and space heating, which have severe indoor air-pollution problems that damage health. Above all, the current focus on exploitation of raw materials for industry and fossil-fuel resources cannot make farmers rich, but will rather leave them with pollution, land damage and, above all, depletion of their means of living.

The Chinese government has realized that it must urgently search for alternative solutions. Under the banner of the so-called "harmonious society", the government is looking into new options, namely sustainable rural development, achieved by using resources more efficiently and prioritizing new and renewable energy sources with wider market applications.

Bioenergy to the rescue?
With its vast territory and diversified geographic regions, China has large stocks of biomass resources from agricultural and forest residues, and also large wastelands that can potentially be used for bioenergy development: small and decentralized electricity and heat generation, household applications, and biofuels development:
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Bioenergy has become a top priority in the government agenda as the Renewable Energy Law was implemented starting in January 2006. The current focus is on electricity generation from surplus agricultural residues, which were estimated at 200 million tonnes yearly. The government has set a long-term target of 30 gigawatts of electricity generated from biomass by 2020, which will require billions of US dollars in investment.

There is a growing interest in biofuels development as well, such as bio-diesel and ethanol, with the intention of replacing imported oil, which accounts for more than 40% of the country's total oil supply today and may reach more than 50% by 2010. That's why, to most people's surprise, the Chinese government has announced that it will import a million tonnes of ethanol each year from Brazil. Without doubt, these announcements pave the way for new business opportunities, both in China and internationally.

Pro-poor perspective
But this strategy is being defined too narrowly, with the missing part being the fulfillment of the needs of the poor and disadvantaged social groups. Newly built biomass-burning electric-power plants could be good news for those living in remote areas without access to electricity as decentralized power generation would help improve their quality of life. But the current plan, with dozens of demonstration biomass power plants being built, is mainly in economically developed regions, such as in Jiangsu and Shandong provinces.

The key point is that rural residents can only benefit from bioenergy development if it takes place where they live and takes their daily needs into account. The fact is that most farmers still use biomass for cooking and heating in traditional ways, especially in poor remote regions.

While farmers suffer from severe health impacts due to the burning of coal inside their households, fluoride poisoning, for example, is a common health problem in Guizhou province. Some 19 million poor farmers there, mostly minority ethnic groups, are affected, especially women, children and old people.

Traditional use of biomass also wastes a lot of energy because it uses family stoves whose efficiency rates are only at 5-8%. For example, one rural family in remote Yunnan province uses 14-16 tonnes of firewood per year on average, thus causing major damage to natural forests. Modern biomass stoves can achieve 30-40% efficiency rates. Implementation of such stoves would benefit the global environment, save resources, and also increase revenues for rural enterprises.

China needs to make a massive transition from traditional to modern uses of biomass as part of its strategy to develop rural areas in a sustainable way. This leapfrogging requires innovative policy support from the government. By doing so, it will benefit farmers through reduced fossil-fuel use, improvements in living conditions and health, job creation, and income generation.

Most agricultural residues today are burned in the fields, which pollutes the air and wastes energy. With the same amount of investment now used to develop biomass power plants, household-based biomass utilization could generate five to 10 times as many local jobs and five to nine times as much income for rural residents and small companies, in addition to other environmental and social benefits.

So far the Chinese government has not paid adequate attention to these points, especially how to use biomass resources more efficiently and related sustainability issues. Strong policy incentives should be established to provide favorable conditions to get investors, innovators and small enterprises involved in the social and technological transition toward sustainable rural development. Such energy policies could also play a large role in mitigating climate change, a more fruitful move than building pollution-creating coal-burning plants, as is done in China today at an increasing rate. By implementing policies to support household-based biomass use, pressures on rapid urban development could ease.

Internationally, bioenergy has become a dynamic driving force, with many committed players - governments, industries, aid agencies and increasingly private investors - wanting to get involved in China's land of opportunities that will spring from this transition. In the end, it will bring a new perspective to integrate reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions with sustainable rural energy development in China, which will also be a valuable experience for other biomass-rich developing countries in the move to reach social-development and environmental-protection goals.

Dr. Lin Gan received his bachelor's degree in library science from Shanxi University in 1982 and his master's degree in science and technology policy from the University of Lund, Sweden, in 1989. He received his PhD in public administration from Roskilde University, Denmark, in 1995.

Source: Lin Gan, "China's farmers need a second liberation", Asia Times, June 27, 2007.

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Virginia Tech researchers receive $1.2 million to study poplar tree as model biomass crop

Virginia Tech researchers have received US$1.2 million to study protein-protein interactions associated with biomass production in poplar wood. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) jointly selected the Virginia Tech project and 10 others for awards totaling $8.3 million for biofuel research that may increase the availability and use of alternative fuels (earlier post).

The poplar is the first tree to have had its entire genome sequenced (previous post), the combined effort of 34 institutions from around the world, including the University of British Columbia, and Genome Canada; Umeå Plant Science Centre, Sweden; and Ghent University, Belgium (home of Marc Van Montagu, the father of modern genetic engineering). The project was led by the Joint Genome Institute (JGI) which sequences a wide range of energy crops (and recently announced its 2008 agenda).

Poplar is seen as a model biomass crop because it can be tailored to yield specific materials for the production of green chemicals and fuels (image, click to enlarge). The tree may become part of the 'third generation' of biofuels, which are based on energy crops that have been manipulated in such a way that their properties allow more efficient bioconversion into a predetermined product.

Drawing on the genomics info, the Virginia Tech researchers will aim to improve biomass productivity of the poplar by looking at its protein interactions.
If we can identify the protein-protein interaction networks associated with its woody tissues, it will give us a more detailed understanding of how plants produce their biomass – their genomics and the molecular biology of biomass production. This will ultimately contribute to strategies for improving biomass crops. - Eric Beers, principal investigator, Associate Professor of Horticulture in Virginia Tech's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Proteins are the molecular machines required for the production of plant cell walls. To function, proteins must interact with other proteins, but researchers know little about the protein-protein interactions that occur during the process of wood formation:
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This is basic research that could conceivably make the use of poplar wood as a biomass crop more amenable to large-scale production and economically feasible.

Amy Brunner, associate professor of forestry in the College of Natural Resources, will use her expertise in poplar genomics to study a subset of the protein interactions directly in poplar trees and to incorporate results with what scientists know about gene expression and gene function within poplar wood. She has already identified approximately 250 poplar genes specifically associated with wood formation that will be the focus of this project. This is known as the poplar biomass gene set.

In addition, Allan Dickerman, assistant professor at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, will collect data and employ advanced techniques of computational biology to map protein-protein interactions. These maps reveal functional clusters of protein interactions that will give scientists visual clues about the molecular biology of poplar cell wall-related biomass production.
These research projects build upon DOE’s strategic investments in genomics and biotechnology and strengthen our commitment to developing a robust bioenergy future vital to America’s energy and economic security. - U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman.
In 2006, DOE and USDA began funding fundamental research in biomass genomics to provide a scientific foundation to facilitate and accelerate the use of woody plant tissue for bioenergy and biofuels. New research projects on cordgrass, rice, switchgrass, sorghum, poplar, and perennial grasses join last year’s portfolio of research on poplar, alfalfa, sorghum, and wheat.

Other universities and research centers that received this second round of awards include the University of Minnesota, South Dakota State University, Mississippi State University, University of Georgia, University of Florida, University of Delaware, USDA Agricultural Research Service Western Regional Research Center, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Image: desirable traits of the poplar. Courtesy: U.S. Dept. of Energy.

CheckBiotech: Virginia Tech researchers to study poplar tree as model biomass crop - June 26, 2007.

Biopact: Joint Genome Institute announces 2008 genome sequencing targets with focus on bioenergy and carbon cycle - June 12, 2007

Biopact: The first tree genome is published: Poplar holds promise as renewable bioenergy resource - September 14, 2006

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ABF, BP and DuPont in joint venture to build $400 million bioethanol, biobutanol plants in the UK

As was recently outlined in its biomass strategy, the UK has a considerable potential to produce biofuels. A major step forward to tapping this potential was made today as BP, Associated British Foods (ABF) and DuPont announced major investment plans, totalling around £200 (€297/$400) million for the construction of a world scale bioethanol plant alongside a high technology demonstration plant to advance the development of biobutanol.

The European Investment Bank (EIB) will provide of £120 (€178/$240) million of project financing at interesting rates. This is the first direct involvement by the EIB in a biofuels project.

A joint venture will be formed, subject to regulatory approval, to build the plant and operate the business. ABF subsidiary British Sugar and BP will each hold 45% of the joint venture and DuPont will hold the remaining 10%.

The plant will produce bioethanol from wheat and will be built at a cost of £200m at BP’s chemicals site at Saltend, Hull. Its capacity will be 420 million litres (111 million gallons) of bioethanol per year and is planned to come on stream in late 2009. ABF expects a return on its investment ahead of its cost of capital in the first full year of operation.

Front end engineering and design work will commence immediately with Aker Kvaerner leading the project and their joint venture partner Praj providing the technology expertise (more info on Aker Kvaerner and Praj). Although the plant will be built from scratch, it will have access to the existing infrastructure at the BP site for essential supporting services. Once operational it will provide around 70 new full-time posts in addition to the employment opportunities generated by the construction phase.

The plant will initially produce bioethanol, but the partners will look at the feasibility of converting it to biobutanol once the technology is available. BP and DuPont intend to build a jointly funded biobutanol demonstration plant, which will run in parallel with the main plant, thus making their agreement to cooperate on biobutanol concrete (earlier post). The plant, funded and owned equally by BP and DuPont, would produce around 20,000 litres of biobutanol a year from a wide variety of feedstocks:
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Over the last year, we have accelerated the commercial development of biobutanolThe demonstration facility, which will begin operation in early 2009, will develop the processing parameters and further advance the commercial deployment of our new technology. At the same time, the growing market demand for biofuels is significant. We are concurrently investing in the Hull bioethanol facility with the intention to increase that investment once biobutanol process technology development is completed and conversion feasibility is validated. - John Ranieri, head of DuPont Biofuels.
To begin market development of biobutanol, BP and DuPont are also establishing initial introduction plans for biobutanol in the UK. The companies will import small quantities of biobutanol, sourced from an existing first generation manufacturing facility in China. The first product is expected to arrive by the end of the year and will be used to carry out infrastructure and advanced vehicle testing.

This testing will build upon initial laboratory engine tests using conventional butanol which indicated that butanol has similar fuel performance properties to unleaded petrol. In addition, work will be undertaken to gather comprehensive data on the environmental footprint and sustainability of this next generation fuel.

Feedstock agreements
It is expected that formal agreements will be entered into by the bioethanol joint venture, after its formation, with other ABF businesses: Frontier Agriculture and AB Agri. The supply of locally grown wheat would be arranged by Frontier which is the UK’s leading grain marketer and supplier of agricultural inputs.

The major co-product of bioethanol production, distillers’ grain, would be sold to AB Agri. It will use its highly specialised sales and marketing business, which sources and develops co-products from the food, drink and energy industries, to market the distillers’ grain as an alternative feed for livestock.

This announcement follows the previously announced investment by British Sugar (an ABF subsidiary) to build the UK’s first bioethanol plant at Wissington, Norfolk. Its capacity will be 70 million litres (55,000 tonnes) of bioethanol a year, using sugar beet as a feedstock, and the plant will start production next month.

The European Investment Bank is finalising its approval for the provision of £120m of project financing for both of ABF's biofuel investments at attractive interest rates. This would be the first direct financing provided by the Bank for a biofuel project.

Associated British Food: ABF in joint venture to build £200m UK biofuel plant - June 26, 2007.

BP: BP, ABF and DuPont Unveil $400 Million Investment in UK Biofuels - June 26, 2007.

BP - DuPont: Biobutanol factsheet [*.pdf].

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Presenting the Alliance for Synthetic Fuels in Europe

The development of ultra-clean synthetic fuels has been speeding up lately, with the first pilot plants actually coming online and a series of cooperation agreements being signed between major research organisations. A new initiative is now joining the forces of some of Europe's leading automotive and fuel supply companies into the Alliance for Synthetic Fuels in Europe (ASFE).

The ASFE members especially seek political and fiscal support from EU and national policy makers for the introduction and increased penetration of all synthetic fuels, including synthetic biofuels, and more specifically to:
  • Acknowledge BtL production could provide Europe with a new and sustainable business in the agricultural sector for the production of low carbon fuels
  • Include GtL fuel, in addition to BtL fuel, as an alternative fuel that can help EU reach its 2020 alternative fuel targets
  • Put in place mechanisms to help achieve alternative fuels targets in a cost effective manner
  • Recognise GtL will pave the way for BtL commercialisation
  • Increase support, including R&D, for BtL production pathways
  • Increase R&D support for advanced engines optimised around synthetic fuels
  • Recognise advanced fuel and engine technologies could provide European industry with new business opportunities
Synthetic fuels are new generation of near zero sulphur and aromatics transport fuels made with the Fischer Tropsch process from natural gas (Gas-to-Liquids, GtL), coal (Coal-to-Liquids, CtL) or biomass (Biomass-to-Liquids, BtL). The process (schematic, click to enlarge) consists of gasifying the feedstock to obtain syngas (consisting mainly of hydrogen and carbon monoxide), which is then fed into a Fischer-Tropsch reactor where the gas is synthesized into liquids. The resulting fuels can be upgraded and 'designed' to have particular properties.

Towards ultra-clean, carbon-negative BtL fuels
Industry studies show that life cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of the GtL process are comparable to a refinery system (+/- 5%). CtL has a carbon penalty, which can be reduced through CO2 sequestration. By linking development of advanced engine and synthetic fuels production technology it is expected that greater vehicle efficiency gains will lead to further reductions in CO2 emissions.

When made from biomass, synthetic fuels become renewable and reduce GHG emissions by between 60 and 90% (graph, click to enlarge). Compared to first generation biofuels such as biodiesel and bioethanol (when made from crops grown in the EU), this is a considerable improvement of the GHG balance. BtL processes can be combined with CO2 sequestration techniques, in which case synthetic biofuels can even become carbon-negative. This means they can take historic CO2 emissions out of the atmosphere:
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But regardless of the feedstock, all paraffinic Fischer-Tropsch fuels have properties that make them superior to petroleum based fuels (graph, click to enlarge). They share the following properties :
  • sulphur-free, low aromatic, odourless, colourless liquid synthetic fuels
  • allow significant reduction of regulated and non-regulated vehicle pollutant emissions (NOx, SOx, PM, VOC, CO)
  • contribute to oil substitution, diversification and security of energy supply
  • can be used in existing diesel fuelling infrastructure
  • can be used in existing diesel engines
  • enable the development of new generation of internal combustion engine technologies with improved engine efficiency and further reduction of vehicle pollutant emissions
  • are readily biodegradable, and non-toxic
Because they can be made from a renewable feedstock - cellulosic biomass - synthetic biofuels represent a critical step on the path to a European future of sustainable, green and clean mobility.

Over the longer term, for environmental, energy security and continued economic development reasons petroleum derived transport fuels will need to be supplemented by alternative fuels. ASFE's vision is for synthetic fuels to play a bridging role from today’s conventional fuels to the future renewable transportation fuels and associated vehicle technologies.

Once commercially available, BtL is expected to contribute a reduction in CO2 of up to 90% compared to crude oil derived fuels. As synthetic fuels share a large part of the production technology, they provide a continuous development path to a low-carbon transport future. Synthetic fuels are compatible with hybrid engine technologies and, thanks to their unique properties, could enable advanced combustion engine technology such as homogeneous combustion.

Further objectives of the organisation are to support research into the fuels, projects demonstrating the benefits of synthetic fuels including vehicle trials, co-operation with governments and promotion of public awareness.

ASFE members are Bosch, DaimlerChrysler, Renault, Shell, Sasol Chevron and Volkswagen.

Images: all graphs and images courtesy of the ASFE.

The Alliance for Synthetic Fuels in Europe, website.

A closer look at the history behind the Fischer-Tropsch process can be found at the FT Archives.

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Scientists develop biobutanol from wheat straw

Scientists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) are experimenting with a way to convert cellulosic biomass into biobutanol using the bacterium Clostridium beijerinckii.

Biobutanol (butyl alcohol) can become an important renewable transportation fuel because it has a higher energy content than ethanol. It can be used in the existing gasoline supply and distribution lines, has higher octane number, and can be mixed with gasoline in any proportion (earlier post). It is also a valuable chemical.

Biobutanol can be readily be produced from any starch source, obtained from annual crops such as corn, rice or barley. However, due to the prohibitive cost of these grains and cereals and because of the need to balance food and fuel production, use of lignocellulosic biomass residues is the way forward.

The ARS scientists report in Biotechnology for Fuels and Chemicals that a microbial culture such as Clostridium beijerinckii P260 can utilize five and six carbon sugars present in cellulosic biomass and convert them to butanol.

In order to reduce the cost of butanol production, the researchers hydrolyzed wheat straw to lignocellulosic component sugars (glucose, xylose, arabinose, galactose, and mannose) prior to their conversion to butanol. The rate of production of wheat straw hydrolysate to butanol was 214% over that from glucose:
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Wheat straw was pretreated with dilute sulfuric acid and hydrolyzed to simple sugars using commercial carbohydrases. Hydrolysis, fermentation, and product recovery were combined in a single step using a 2.5 L bioreactor. Pretreated wheat straw was successfully hydrolyzed to produce glucose, xylose, arabinose, galactose, and mannose, and these sugars were fermented by C. beijerinckii.

The fermentation performance was enhanced by simultaneously recovering products [Acetone-butanol (AB)] from the fermentation broth by gas stripping, thereby, avoiding end product inhibition. The reactor was operated in a fed-batch mode, and the fermentation lasted for more than 500 hours.

These studies, part of a larger project called Cost-Effective Bioprocess Technologies for Production of Biofuels from Lignocellulosic Biomass, demonstrated that production of AB from wheat straw in a single reactor is possible when hydrolytic enzymes are used and product (AB) is simultaneously produced and recovered.

Successful production of economically available butanol from wheat straw by fermentation will benefit farmers, the butanol producing industry and the public at large. Development of such a fuel by an economically viable process is essential as gasoline prices are rising steadily.

Biobutanol made headlines when DuPont and BP announced they were going to collaborate on producing the fuel, which they think holds promise over the longer term as a gasoline substitute (earlier post). Another player is biotech company Green Biologics who received a large (€855,000) fund to research strategies to develop the fuel from cellulosic biomass (see here).

Qureshi, N., Saha, B.C., Cotta, M.A., "Bioconversion of wheat straw to butanol (a superior liquid fuel): simultaneous saccharification, fermentation, and product recovery", [*abstract], Biotechnology for Fuels and Chemicals, Paper No. 4-16, May 2, 2007.

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