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    Siemens Energy & Automation, Inc. and the U.S. National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center (NCERC) today announced a partnership to speed the growth of alternative fuel technology. The 10-year agreement between the center and Siemens represents transfers of equipment, software and on-site simulation training. The NCERC facilitates the commercialization of new technologies for producing ethanol more effectively and plays a key role in the Bio-Fuels Industry for Workforce Training to assist in the growing need for qualified personnel to operate and manage bio-fuel refineries across the country. Business Wire - June 29, 2007.

    A paper published in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Ceramic Society proposes a new method of producing hydrogen for portable fuel cells that can work steadily for 10-20 times the length of equivalently sized Lithium-ion batteries. Zhen-Yan Deng, lead author, found that modified aluminum powder can be used to react with water to produce hydrogen at room temperature and under normal atmospheric pressure. The result is a cost-efficient method for powering fuel cells that can be used in portable applications and hybrid vehicles. More soon. Blackwell Publishing - June 29, 2007.

    An NGO called Grains publishes a report that highlights some of the potentially negative effects associated with the global biofuels sector. The findings are a bit one-sided because based uniquely on negative news stories. Moreover, the report does not show much of a long-term vision on the world's energy crisis, climate change, North-South relations, and the unique role biofuels can play in addressing these issues. Grain - June 29, 2007.

    Researchers at the Universidad de Tarapacá in Arica plan to grow Jatropha curcas in the arid north of Chile. The trial in the desert, is carried out to test the drought-tolerance of the biodiesel crop, and to see whether it can utilize the desert's scarce water resources which contain high amounts of salt minerals and boron, lethal to other crops. Santiago Times - June 28, 2007.

    India and Thailand sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that envisages cooperation through joint research and development and exchange of information in areas of renewable sources of energy like, biogas, solar-thermal, small hydro, wind and biomass energy. Daily India - June 28, 2007.

    Portucel - Empresa Produtora de Pasta e Papel SA said it plans to install biomass plants with an expected production capacity of 200,000 megawatt hours per year at its paper factories in Setubal and Cacia. The European Commission gave the green light for state aid totaling €46.5 million, contributing to Portucel's plans to extend and modernise its plants. Forbes - June 28, 2007.

    Petro-Canada and GreenField Ethanol have inked a long-term deal that makes Petro-Canada the exclusive purchaser of all ethanol produced at GreenField Ethanol's new facility in Varennes, Quebec. The ethanol will be blended with gasoline destined for Petro-Canada retail sites in the Greater Montreal Area. Petro-Canada - June 27, 2007.

    According to a study by the Korean Energy Economics Institute, biodiesel produced in Korea will become cheaper than light crude oil from 2011 onwards (678 won/liter versus 717.2 won/liter). The study "Prospects on the Economic Feasibility of Biodiesel and Improving the Support System", advises to keep biodiesel tax-free until 2010, after which it can compete with oil. Dong-A Ilbo - June 27, 2007.

    Kreido Biofuels announced today that it has entered into a marketing and distribution agreement with Eco-Energy, an energy and chemical marketing and trading company. Eco-Energy will purchase Kreido Biofuels’ biodiesel output from Wilmington, North Carolina, and Argo, Illinois, for a minimum of 3 years at current commercial market prices, as well as provide Kreido transportation and logistics services. Business Wire - June 27, 2007.

    Beijing Tiandi Riyue Biomass Technology Corp. Ltd. has started construction on its new fuel ethanol project in the county of Naiman in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region's Chifeng City, the company's president told Interfax today. Interfax China - June 26, 2007.

    W2 Energy Inc. announces it will begin development of biobutanol from biomass. The biofuel will be manufactured from syngas derived from non-food biomass and waste products using the company's plasma reactor system. Market Wire - June 26, 2007.

    Finland based Metso Corporation, a global engineering firm has received an order worth €60 million to supply two biomass-fired power boilers to Portugal's EDP Producao - Bioeléctrica, S.A. The first boiler (83 MWth) will be installed at Celbi’s Figueira da Foz pulp mill and the second boiler (35 MWth) at Caima’s pulp mill near the city of Constância. Both power plants will mainly use biomass, like eucalyptus bark and forest residues, as fuel to produce together approximately 40 MWe electricity to the national grid. Both boilers utilize bubbling fluidized bed technology. Metso Corporation - June 26, 2007.

    Canada's New Government is investing more than $416,000 in three southern Alberta projects to help the emerging biofuels industry. The communities of Lethbridge, Drumheller and Coalhurst will benefit from the projects. Through the Biofuels Opportunities for Producers Initiative (BOPI), the three firms will receive funding to prepare feasibility studies and business plans to study the suitability of biofuels production according to location and needs in the industry. MarketWire - June 26, 2007.

    U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman is expected to announce today that Michigan State and other universities have been selected to share $375 million in federal funding to develop new bioenergy centers for research on cellulosic ethanol and biomass plants. More info soon. Detroit Free Press - June 26, 2007.

    A Kerala based NGO has won an Ashden Award for installing biogas plants in the state to convert organic waste into a clean and renewable source of energy at the household level. Former US vice president Al Gore gave away the award - cash prize of 30,000 pounds - to Biotech chief A. Saji at a ceremony in London on Friday. New Kerala - June 25, 2007.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, June 29, 2007

REEEP disburses €3.2 million for 35 new clean energy projects in the developing world

The Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP), a leading alliance promoting clean energy in the developing world, announces it will fund thirty-five new projects. The funding round, REEEP’s sixth, is the largest in its four year history. Several bioenergy related projects are amongst the new initiatives.

The increased funding was driven by new donor contributions in March when the Norwegian government announced a three-year pledge of €3.7 million. Norway joined the United Kingdom, Ireland, Italy and New Zealand as a project donor government. Norwegian funding is focused on supporting several projects in Brazil, China and India. One is developing a financial mechanism to stimulate energy efficiency in buildings, and another will develop a national action plan for rural biomass. Norwegian funding will also establish a renewable energy fund in West Africa and promote biomass gasifiers in India.

REEEP received about 310 concepts globally in response to the calls for proposals under its 6th programme round. A total of 35 projects were selected through a two stage bottom up process; 7 projects were also placed on the wait-list. A full list of the selected projects can be found here [*.doc].
The REEEP portfolio is moving beyond a collection of good projects to being more strategic. We have started the replication and scale-up of successful projects in the past and have also started commissioning specific projects. We are also pleased to be working closely with the governments of Argentina, Ecuador and Uganda as they formulate national renewable energy policy and legislation. - Morgan Bazilian, REEEP Programme Board Chair
In Africa, solar water heating is rising up the agenda as a demand side management strategy. Three projects are supporting the development of solar water heating markets – in Morocco, South Africa, Tunisia and Uganda. In Uganda alone one study has shown that 41MW could be saved by installing 65,000 solar water heaters in urban areas. Additionally, REEEP and the World Bank will be holding a Development Marketplace competition for LED lighting across Sub-Saharan Africa to replace fossil-fuel lighting:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Energy efficiency remains a REEEP priority with 44% of the total projects funded covering energy efficiency. A successful street lighting ESCO project financed previously will be replicated in other Indian states. Credit risk guarantees will be developed for the Mexican ESCO market and a feasibility study will look at the role of ESCO’s in financing biogas plants at livestock farms in China.
We need to do what we can to ensure that developing countries make a technological leap forward, bypassing polluting technologies and increasing the share of renewable and clean energy sources. - Eric Solheim, Norwegian Minister of International Development
Kyoto mechanisms and the Clean Development Mechanism continue to be promoted by the Partnership. The Gold Standard will receive funding to train CDM experts in Brazil, India, China and South Africa. Meanwhile the London Olympic Committee will work with REEEP on a CDM project which will source emission reductions from renewable energy projects in China to green the 2012 London Olympics.
The projects we’re backing are delivering replicable models for renewable and energy efficient development. Our partnership of governments, NGOs and businesses is helping to establish a stable global marketplace for clean energy. - Dr. Marianne Osterkorn, International Director of REEEP
For the first time REEEP is directly commissioning projects in addition to selecting projects via public tender. Two of the commissioned projects include plans to develop a global status report on energy efficiency and development and establishment of a risk mitigation mechanism for renewable energy and energy efficiency investments in India. REEEP’s project portfolio serves to underpin its overall work programme and contributes towards the REEEP mission and objectives.

REEEP previously disbursed € 2.2 million euro in 2006 and € 1.1 million in 2005.

Earlier this year, the organisation announced it was studying ways to implement biofuel related projects in South Africa. The first investments have been made, and focus is on threading carefully to ensure that the projects thoroughly benefit local communities (earlier post).

REEEP: REEEP Disburses Euro 3.2 million for 35 New Clean Energy Projects - June 27, 2007.

REEEP: Sixth Round - List of Projects - 2007.

Article continues

Biogas powered stirling generator for the developing world

In a very interesting development, Infinia Corporation announced that it has partnered with start-up Emergence BioEnergy Inc. (EBI) to develop an innovative energy system that will serve developing nations' rural communities who can make use of abundant biomass resources. EBI is led by Iqbal Quadir, founder of the highly successful company GrameenPhone, which started by providing telecommunications to the poorest, but rapidly grew into Bangladesh's largest operator.

EBI will start its project in Bangladesh and has developed a comprehensive energy supply strategy for serving low-income countries around the world. Key concepts are village ownership, the use of local biomass resources and decentralized energy production.

The project tries to tackle three well known energy-related obstacles for development in poor countries: (1) primitive biomass used for cooking and heating is highly inefficient and a killer in the kitchen claiming two million lives each year (earlier post), (2) the lack of reliable and affordable refrigerators prevents the development of efficient food and medicine markets where products need to be kept fresh and cool, (3) finally, the lack of rural electrification limits the opportunity for people to study, to connect to the broader world and to spend their time efficiently.
This opportunity has the potential to positively impact more people in more ways than virtually anything I've seen. - Iqbal Quadir, CEO of EBI, founder of GrameenPhone
The initial project involves the mass production of Infinia's 1-kilowatt (kW) free-piston Stirling generator with a thermal appliance. The generator will operate on methane gas produced by an anaerobic digester that converts livestock manure and agricultural wastes into combustible biogas. The product is highly versatile and can be adapted to other fuel sources, depending on the circumstances.

Stirling generators, cryocoolers
Infinia is the leading developer of free-piston Stirling generators ranging in sizes from tens of Watts to multiple kilowatts. The generators are especially well suited for critical power applications that require silent operation, high reliability, and long life with little or no maintenance. The free-piston technology is also applied in the development of cryogenic coolers and pressure wave generators that provide long-life, maintenance-free cooling for a variety of applications.

Stirling engines are highly efficient free-piston engines originally developed by Robert Stirling in 1816. The Stirling cycle uses a working fluid (typically Helium, Nitrogen or Hydrogen gas) in a closed cylinder containing a piston. Heated on one end and cooled on the other, the expansion and cooling of the gas drives the piston back and forth in the cylinder. The work performed by this piston-motion is used to drive a generator (in Infinia’s case, a patented linear alternator) or to create pressure waves to drive a compression process (animation, click to enlarge).

The cycle can be operated in reverse by using the generator as a motor to drive the piston. In this case, the continuous expansion and cooling of the working fluid caused by the piston motion creates a cooling effect. These types of systems are called Stirling coolers (also referred to as cryocoolers) and can maintain temperatures as low as 10 Kelvin (-263°C, and –442 °F):
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The EBI strategy provides a platform that generates electricity on a sustainable basis from locally available fuel sources and provides clean, high quality heat to support additional income-generating opportunities for local entrepreneurs. The digester produces fuel for the Stirling engine and produces waste solids which can be used as fertilizers and fish feed. The Stirling engine will consume biogas from the digester and generate electricity and heat.

"Infinia's unique Stirling engine technology will enable us to provide an efficient and reliable energy system that the farmers and villagers can operate and maintain themselves," said EBI CEO Iqbal Quadir.

Infinia's reliable and maintenance-free 1 kW Stirling engine is being used in residential combined heat and power appliances expected to be commercialized in Asia and Europe over the next 18 months. Mass production of the 1 kW engine will help to ensure that the EBI product is affordable for Bangladeshi entrepreneurs and villages.

In a similar development aimed at increasing the rural poor's access to modern energy, a consortium of major UK universities, the US Los Alamos National Laboratory, a multi-national electrical goods manufacturer, an international charity and numerous universities in Asia and Africa launched the SCORE project (Stove for Cooking, Refrigeration and Electricity). The device will rely on the physics of thermoacoustic heating and cooling - a field of research that has resulted in such high-tech applications as devices to cool satellites, radars and to liquefy natural gas.

Animation courtesy of Infinia Corp.

More information:

Infinia corp.: Free-piston machines.

Renewable Energy Access: Partnership to Develop Biomass Power System for Developing Nations - June 29, 2007.

Biopact: Researchers develop biomass powered "refrigerator-stove-generator" for developing world - May 12, 2007

Article continues

California universities develop innovative process for thermochemical conversion of biomass

A team of made up of nine professors and seven post-doctoral fellows at the University of California, San Diego, Davis and Berkeley plan to make liquid biofuels via an innovative thermochemical process based on upgrading producer gas to syngas. Besides the three University of California campuses, West Biofuels LLC is a partner in the project. The team will develop a prototype research reactor that will use steam, sand and catalysts to efficiently convert forest, urban, and agricultural cellulosic wastes that would otherwise go to landfills into alcohol that can be used as a gasoline additive.

The $1 million, 4-ton-per-day prototype reactor will mix the wastes with high temperature sand in a reaction chamber while the mixture is heated with steam. The gasification process generates an energy rich combination of hydrogen (H2), carbon monoxide (CO), methane (CH4), and carbon dioxide (CO2). Those gases will be catalytically reformed into alcohols. About 30 percent of the energy content of the starting material will be burned to supply the energy needed to operate the plant.

This will actually include a three-step process:
  1. First, the biomass will be gasified thermochemically in a process that is widely used around the world to process wood, coal, and other carbon-containing materials into a producer gas (wood gas).
  2. The methane in the producer gas is typically burned to power electricity-generating power plants. However, the new reactor will catalytically reform the producer gas into syngas, a mixture of hydrogen gas and carbon monoxide.
  3. In the final step, the syngas will be catalytically converted into mixed alcohols with a synthesis catalyst.
In order for all the processes to run at maximum efficiently, the researchers will make use of highly sensitive laser sensors developed at UCSD to continuously monitor the entire operation. Process-control algorithms under development at UCSD's Center for Control Systems and Dynamics (CCSD) will use the sensor data to continuously fine-tune steam temperatures and flows, gas mixtures, and catalyst regeneration to achieve the most efficient and reliable conversion of the biomass into fuel:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The research team is led by Robert Cattolica, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at UC San Diego's Jacobs School of Engineering. The 16-strong team will conduct research on the reactor being build by West Biofuels. Lessons learned will be incorporated into a 100-ton-per-day pilot plant, which could generate one 10,000-gallon tanker truck of mixed-alcohol fuel for every seven semi-tractor trailer trucks of biomass waste. California generates a huge volume of such wastes.

The Orange County basin alone produces about 30,000 tons of urban green wastes per day, which is simply dumped at landfills and used as compost. Cattolica said that waste supply could generate 3 million gallons per day of mixed-alcohol fuel, which is equivalent to all the ethanol currently added to California gasoline.

The biomass processing technology could also permit California to reduce its dependence on outside sources of ethanol. Motorists in California currently purchase more than 900 million gallons of ethanol a year, or 25 percent of the national total. However, the state produces only about 5 percent of the ethanol fuel it consumes. Schwarzengger issued an executive order in 2006 that requires the state to produce at least 20 percent of its biofuels by 2010, 40 percent by 2020, and 75 percent by 2050.

The new biofuels research project was inspired by California's Global Warming Solutions Act, which was signed into law by in September 2006. The act requires a 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in California by 2025. Substituting biomass fuel for petroleum would help California achieve its goal. The two-year UC project is funded with a $1.85 million grant from West Biofuels LLC, a San Rafael, CA, company that is developing the biomass-to-alcohol technology, and a $1.15 million state-funded UC Discovery Grant.

The alcohol currently added to gasoline sold in California is derived from corn, sugar cane, beets, or other farm crops. About 95 percent of the alcohol additive comes from outside of California and as far away as China. Rather than fermenting food crops into ethanol, Cattolica's project will use a thermo-chemical process to break down shredded cellulosic wastes into a mixed alcohol, predominately ethanol.

"The more paper and cardboard, agricultural and forest wastes, and sludge and municipal solid waste that we can process into biofuels the sooner the state can meet the state's biofuels goals," said Cattolica. "This is all attainable, and it will allow us to continue using internal combustion engines, reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, and reduce the production of greenhouse gases."

Since carbon dioxide is naturally recycled from the atmosphere into cellulose in plants and back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide when plants decompose, burning biomass-derived fuel such as alcohol in internal combustion engines has a zero net effect on the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. On the other hand, burning fossil fuels continually adds carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, to the atmosphere.

"The technology we're developing will tap a huge, energy-rich resource that now is literally going to waste," Cattolica concluded.


University of California, San Diego, Jacobs School of Engineering: Wood Chips in - Biofuel out - June 12, 2007.

University of California, San Diego: Center for Energy Research.

Article continues

D1 Oils and BP to establish global joint venture to plant jatropha

In an important step for the production of biofuels in the Global South, D1 Oils plc, the UK-based producer of biodiesel, announced [*.pdf] plans to establish a global Joint Venture with BP to create a world-wide Jatropha curcas plantation business: D1-BP Fuel Crops Limited. The humble shrub's oil ('crude jatropha oil' - CJO) is now on track to become a commodity that can be produced by countless farmers in the developing world.

Jatropha is an oilseed tree that grows in tropical and sub-tropical regions and produces high yields of inedible vegetable oil that can be used to produce high-quality biodiesel. Jatropha can grow on a wide range of land types, including non-arable, marginal and waste land. Jatropha does not compete with food crops for good agricultural land or result in the destruction of rainforest.

The establishment of the 50:50 JV to undertake global planting of jatropha has the following aims and features:
  • An accelerated planting programme: a target to plant one million hectares over four years; in the first year of the JV's operation the pace of planting is likely to remain at the current 150,000 hectares per annum target; it is expected to increase thereafter up to a targeted rate of at least 350,000 hectares per annum by the fourth year.
  • More rapid deployment of higher yielding jatropha varieties: all of D1 oils' current plantations are based on uncultivated “wild seed” jatropha which yield around 1.7 tons/hectare, the JV will allow the deployment of elite E1 seeds with an estimated yield of 2.7 tonnes per hectare
  • Development of logistics strategy and a global supply chain
  • Initial contribution of parties: D1 planting to date and planting business, BP working capital of £31.75 million through equity in the JV; total JV funding requirement of approximately £80 million over five years
  • Plant science activities and intellectual property remain 100 per cent owned by D1
This major global business to plant jatropha as sustainable biodiesel feedstock now entails an endorsement by BP, one of the world's largest oil and gas companies. The D1 Oils planting strategy is based on: the potential to produce low-cost, volume supplies of inedible oil for biodiesel the use of marginal and waste land and land unsuitable for arable crops no competition with high biodiversity value rainforest significant job creation and value to local communities:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Under the terms of the Joint Venture Agreement signed today D1 and BP will work together exclusively on the development of jatropha as a sustainable energy crop, including the planting of trees, harvesting jatropha grain, oil extraction and transport and logistics. Production of jatropha oil for refining into biodiesel is expected to begin in 2008.

D1 Oils Plant Science Limited, D1’s plant science business, will act as the exclusive supplier of selected, high yielding jatropha seeds and seedlings to the Joint Venture. The strategy sees it planting elite seed in greater quantities than D1’s stand alone plan.

With the conclusion of this transaction D1 will comprise, in its upstream business, its wholly owned plant science operations together with the IP in plant science, in addition to 50 per cent of a global planting joint venture with BP. In its downstream operations, the business will include, as it does now, its wholly owned interests in refining and trading.

Commenting on the announcement, Lord Oxburgh of Liverpool, Chairman of D1 Oils
plc said: "Biodiesel is a young industry, but is rapidly becoming an established part of the global renewable energy landscape. It is crucial that we develop supplies of alternative, inedible vegetable oils like jatropha that are not subject to the same demand pressures as food oils and that are grown on non-essential land. This partnership with BP strengthens D1’s strategy of delivering commercial volumes of jatropha oil at competitive prices, whilst truly supporting the communities in which we operate."

Elliott Mannis, Chief Executive Officer of D1 Oils plc, said: “This is a transforming event for D1. BP’s decision to join us in this new venture is a significant endorsement of our strategy to develop jatropha for the production of sustainable biodiesel. It shows we have come a long way. BP’s proven logistical, managerial and financial support will enable a significant enhancement and acceleration of the scope and pace of jatropha planting.”

Philip New, Head of BP Biofuels, said:
"As jatropha can be grown on land of lesser agricultural value with lower irrigation requirements than many plants, it is an excellent biodiesel feedstock. D1 Oils’ progress in identifying the most productive varieties of jatropha means that the joint venture will have access to seeds which can substantially increase jatropha oil production per hectare.”

Reasons for the Joint Venture and Strategy
BP plc has a market capitalisation of approximately £114.6 billion. The combination of both financial and industrial strength make it a partner with considerable credibility internationally to assist D1 in the next stages of its corporate development. It is proposed that the JV will be established between D1 and BP International, a subsidiary of BP plc. BP International, which is based in the UK, is engaged internationally in oil, petrochemicals and related financial activities.

The combination of BP’s strong brand and reputation, its major presence in downstream transportation fuel markets, its strong understanding of associated technical and regulatory issues and demand drivers, its access to governments, NGOs and other large organisations and its trading and logistics expertise, make it an attractive partner for D1.

It will also contribute to the development of a world leading player in jatropha. D1 Oils says the JV will have a beneficial impact on:

• Plantation management and Crude Jatropha Oil (“CJO”) production
• Plant science and seedling production
• The wider D1 group

Plantation management and CJO production
D1 has established a leading position globally in the commercialisation of jatropha as a biofuels crop. Jatropha can grow on a wide range of land types, including non-arable, marginal and waste land. It will not compete with food crops for good agricultural land or result in the destruction of rainforest. D1 is on track to deliver on the objectives for its Agronomy business as identified at the time of D1’s most recent placing in December 2006.

The JV will adopt a business plan which the D1 Board believes significantly exceeds D1’s standalone plan in terms of scale and quality and that the involvement of BP with its competencies and resources will increase the likelihood of a successful implementation of the plan. The key features of the Joint Venture business plan are:

An accelerated planting programme.
The JV business plan is to target 1.0 million hectares of new commercial jatropha cultivation over the next four years compared to approximately 600,000 hectares on a standalone basis. In the first year of the JV the pace of planting is likely to remain at the current 150,000 hectares per annum target. However, the pace of planting is expected to increase thereafter up to a targeted rate of at least 350,000 hectares per annum by the fourth year.

A higher quality planting programme.
D1 has to date focused on contract farming and seed purchase agreements. These planting methods are less capital intensive and better reflect D1’s financial resources. The arrangements have facilitated the roll-out of D1’s vertically integrated jatropha based strategy but are limited by: the use of lower yielding wild seed; wide variations in land quality and agricultural techniques and the substantial number of partners spread across a wide geography.

The JV’s planting is intended to be much more strongly weighted towards managed plantations where the JV owns and/or controls the land and production, and towards local partners of significant scale and depth. This is a more capital intensive approach than has been hitherto used by D1 to expand the business, but will result in more reliable oil flow to the Joint Venture than some of D1’s existing contract farming and seed supply relationships.

Forming the JV will facilitate this strategy, partly because BP will help with the extra funding implied by the extra capital intensity, and partly because BP’s reputation and standing are likely to help attract high quality partners.

• More rapid deployment of higher yielding jatropha varieties.
All planting to date has been undertaken using uncultivated “wild seed” which D1 believes will yield 1.7 tonnes per hectare from mature, well managed plantations. The JV will focus on the deployment of elite E1 seeds, targeting yields of 2.7 tonnes per hectare as rapidly as is practicable and at a faster rate than under D1’s standalone business plan. In due course subsequent generations of proprietary seed with increased yields and / or improved characteristics will be utilised.

DOPSL, D1’s new plant breeding and seedling production company, remains outside the JV and will be an exclusive provider of elite planting material and will produce more elite seedlings than under the standalone plan. This is possible because the planting programme will be both larger, and will comprise a higher proportion of land where the commercial relationship is strong enough to merit the deployment of elite seed.

Furthermore, under the terms of the proposed arrangement, the increase of DOPSL’s production capability will be fully paid for by the JV, even though DOPSL itself remains a wholly-owned subsidiary of D1.

• Development of logistics strategy and a global supply chain.
As well as offering the opportunity for greater levels of planting and at higher yields, the formation of the JV will assist with establishing a full, vertically integrated supply chain taking harvested seeds through crushing and pre-processing, and then delivering CJO both to domestic and export customers. BP brings very considerable expertise in establishing and managing operations and supply chains on a global basis and the D1 Board believes that the Joint Venture will draw significant benefit from BP’s experience in this field.

• Use of BP network and brand.
BP has a strong presence and reputation in almost all of the countries where the JV will be operating. The JV will capitalise on this in its dealings with government and regulatory agencies, NGOs and current or potential partners. In addition to lending its name to the Joint Venture, BP plc has provided a royalty-free licence agreement allowing the JV to use the BP “helios” trademark on its communications materials.

• Enhanced funding for D1 and leverage for its shareholders.
The capital required by the JV is to increase the scope and pace of planting activities, focus on the deployment of elite seed, finance a significant increase in DOPSL’s production capacity, and develop an optimal logistics strategy. Of this BP will be responsible for funding the first £31.75m of working capital. These monies are expected to be drawn down over the next two years, thus providing a cash flow benefit to D1 relative to its standalone plan. Beyond this, D1 and BP will be jointly responsible for funding the Joint Venture on a basis pro rata to their shareholdings. The JV is also able to raise further funds in the debt capital markets.

Plant science and seedling production
D1’s plant science and seedling production business will be transferred into DOPSL, which will remain a wholly-owned subsidiary of D1. The formation of DOPSL establishes D1’s existing plant science and seedling production business as a discrete stand-alone entity with its own dedicated team. This will enable DOPSL to maintain its focus on research and development, and to provide the framework by which it can increasingly contribute to the D1 group. DOPSL’s production costs will be fully funded by the Joint Venture.

As at 23 June 2007, D1 had planted or obtained rights to offtake over approximately 172,000 hectares as summarised in the table below:

D1’s effective economic interest in the above planting after taking into account the interests of its partners is approximately 50 per cent.

Shares of D1 went up 10% today.


D1: Analyst presentation D1-BP Fuel Crops Limited [*.pdf]

Biopact: D1 Oils has planted over 156,000 hectares of jatropha - May 03, 2007

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Omani biofuel project involves tapping date palms - a closer look

From the futuristic science of synthetic biology, to the ancient art of tapping palm trees... Earlier we referred to a very ambitious biofuel project presented by an entrepreneur from Oman. Mohammed bin Saif al-Harthy and his associates at the Oman Green Energy Company announced they were going to utilize 10 million of the region's ubiquitous date palms as a feedstock for ethanol. Initially it was not clear which parts of the tree would be used, because al-Harty stressed that neither the fruit, nor the cellulosic biomass would be harvested.

From the vague project description we deduced that it might involve the traditional technique of tapping sucrose-rich sap from the palm tree (Phoenix Dactylifera), as is still done today to make date palm wine, sugar and syrup. Reuters' AlertNet service conducted a telephone interview with al-Harty and confirms that this is indeed the case.

Tapping traditions
Tapping trees is very labor intensive and demands traditional skills needed to guarantee the survival of the tree. The technique constitutes a severe intervention, but the rewards may be worth it: sap yields can be high (up to 10 liters per tree per day), the sugar content is high as well and the juice can be readily fermented and distilled (more below).

The date palm sap stores the bulk of its reserve of photosynthetically produced carbohydrates in the form of sucrose in solution in the vascular bundles of its trunk. When the central growing point or upper part of the trunk is incised the palm sap will exude as a fresh clear juice consisting principally of sucrose. When left to stand and favoured by the warm season (when tapping takes place), breakdown of sucrose will soon commence, increasing the invert sugar content, after which fermentation will set in spontaneously by naturally occurring yeasts and within a day most of the sugar will have been converted into alcohol.

Tapping deprives the palm of most of its (productive) leaves and food reserves and to recuperate these losses it is knocked out for at least 3 or 4 years before it will bear a full crop of fruit again. A severe wound inflicted on the palm is kept open every day to maintain the sap flow. The palm's survival depends on the skill of the tapper because if the daily scarring is carried on too far, the palm will die. Literally the palm's life balances on razor's edge:
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Other palms
In some countries, like India, tapping (wild) date palms is an established cottage industry and several other trees have undergone such traditions over the course of centuries - from the African oil palm and the coconut to less well known palms such as Arenga saccharifera, Caryota urens or Borassus flabellifer. Traditions go back thousands of years. Earlier, we reported about the Nypa fruticans or mangrove palm, a tropical species with a long history of being tapped for its sugar rich sap and which recently attracted a major ethanol investment in Malaysia (more here). A good overview of such ancient tapping techniques, the products they yield, and the wide variety of palms with potential can be found in Christophe Dalibard's study, titled "Overall view on the tradition of tapping palm trees and prospects for animal production", to which we referred earlier.


In his book 'Date Palm Products', written for the FAO, W.H. Barreveld devotes a chapter to different tapping techniques used on the date palm. He includes an overview of yields, both from Arabia (for Phoenix Dactylifera) and from India (where the 'wild' date palm, Phoenix Sylvestris, is tapped on a wide scale). The numbers look as follows (click to enlarge):

The sugar contained in the palm juice can be processed into a range of products, from jaggery and crystalline sugar with remaining molasses, to sugar-candy, large sugar crystals and sugar syrup.

Barreveld provides us with a number that allows us to estimate the ethanol potential of a hectare of tapped date palms. As an average the outturn of jaggery is 10-15% of the weight of the raw juice. Jaggery itself contains between 85-90% of total sugar (composed of different types), the rest being moisture, proteine and fat.

Taking a yield of 8 liters of sap per tree, a planting density of between 156 to 204 trees per hectare, and a harvesting period of 45 days per year (continuous tapping), between 56,160 and 73,440 liters of juice can be harvested per hectare per year. From this amount some 5616 to 7344 kilograms of jaggery can be obtained at low conversion efficiencies, which comes down to 4550 to 6240 kilograms of pure sugar (low estimate). As a rule of thumb, conventional yeast fermentation produces around 0.5 kg of ethanol from 1 kg of any the C6 sugars. In short, from one hectare of tapped date palms, some 2275 to 3120 kilos of ethanol can be obtained.

These raw numbers are based on yields observed in villages that practise the ancient tapping techniques. With some research they can probably be increased significantly. Even the relatively simple act of tapping a tree can become a field of biotech research and innovation, as was demonstrated over the course of the past years in the case of rubber tapping, a process that has seen the introduction of novel techniques such as gas stimulation with ethylene, which enhances the flow of sap (more here). Basic R&D in date palm tapping techniques will yield similar innovations.

Labor intensity
Still, technicalities, potential and traditions aside, tapping is labor intensive. This explains the very high number of jobs that the project is expected to deliver (up to 3500 people working on 80,000 trees -, in a second phase, 10 million trees will be tapped). In the field of energy this is rather problematic. The entire purpose of modern energy is to allow man to use up less physical energy from his own body, and to let the energy technology do it for him. If an army of low-paid tappers is needed to harvest fuel for another segment of society, then questions about equity and social sustainability must be asked.

Earlier, we hinted at this problem by comparing the 'jobs delivered per joule of energy' for a series of energy technologies and resources: from oil, gas and coal to renewables such as wind, solar and different biofuels. In the case of biofuels, harvesting some crops is so labor intensive, that they can only function in a social system based on low-skilled, manual and badly paid labor.

Some crops, like palm oil, are harvested manually, but because of their extremely high yields, they allow smallholders and harvesters to make a decent living. For a crop like jatropha, this is not certain. Sugarcane is being mechanised.

Of all possible non-mechanised harvesting techniques - cutting (cane), picking (jatropha seeds), slashing (oil palm fruit bunches) and tapping (palms, rubber trees) - tapping belongs to the more labor intensive ones because it requires quite some precision work.

It is very interesting to see an entrepreneur from a developing nation sharing the enthusiasm for biofuels. Mohammed bin Saif al-Harty wants to export to world markets and turn his oil-producing Sultanate into a biofuel empire.

He has seen an opportunity and if it works out in a socially acceptable way, then all the better, because reviving an ancient art to fuel the future is a beautiful idea. Moreover, if the project succeeds, we could be looking at a vast new expanse of land - stretching from the semi-arid zones and deserts of North Africa over the Middle East and well into Central Asia - where sugar can be tapped for biofuels.

Slide show: all pictures on the traditional date palm tapping technique were taken from 'Date Palm Products', written for the FAO, by W.H. Barreveld.

Reuters: Interview-Omani sees date palms as future fuel - June 28, 2007

Christophe Dalibard, Overall view on the tradition of tapping palm trees and prospects for animal production, International Relations Service, Ministry of Agriculture, Paris, France, Volume 11, Number 1 1999.

W.H. Barreveld, Date Palm Products, FAO Agricultural Services Bulletin N° 101, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, 1993

Biopact: Nipah ethanol project receives major investment, January 05, 2007

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Scientists take major step towards 'synthetic life': first bacterial genome transplantation changing one species to another

A major breakthrouh in the life sciences was published in the journal Science today. Researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) present the results of their work on genome transplantation methods allowing them to transform one type of bacteria into another type dictated by the transplanted chromosome. The work, published by JCVI’s Carole Lartigue, Ph.D. and colleagues, outlines the methods and techniques used to change one bacterial species, Mycoplasma capricolum into another, Mycoplasma mycoides Large Colony (LC), by replacing one organism’s genome with the other one’s genome.

The achievement opens the era of synthetic biology, a revolutionary science field the consequences and applications of which we can only begin to imagine. In order to prepare the public for this news, world leading scientists issued a declaration a few days ago, in which they call for a global push to advance synthetic biology. Prior to this 'Ilulissat Statement', Dr Craig Venter, president of JVCI and founder of the Synthetic Genomics Company, patented the technique for the creation of a 'minimal bacterial genome'.

To alleviate public fears, scientists have repeatedly stressed that synthetic biology may address some of the most daunting problems of our times, such as climate change, energy, health, and water resources. Synthetic biology possibly offers solutions to these issues: microorganisms that convert ubiquitous plant matter to biofuels in a highly efficient manner or that synthesize new drugs or target and destroy rogue cells in the body. Now that a major breakthrough has been achieved, they repeat the message once again:
The successful completion of this research is important because it is one of the key proof of principles in synthetic genomics that will allow us to realize the ultimate goal of creating a synthetic organism. We are committed to this research as we believe that synthetic genomics holds great promise in helping to solve issues like climate change and in developing new sources of energy. - Dr J. Craig Venter, president and chairman, JCVI
Methods and techniques
The JCVI team devised several key steps to enable the genome transplantation. First, an antibiotic selectable marker gene was added to the M. mycoides LC chromosome to allow for selection of living cells containing the transplanted chromosome. Then the team purified the DNA or chromosome from M. mycoides LC so that it was free from proteins (called naked DNA). This M. mycoides LC chromosome was then transplanted into the M. capricolum cells. After several rounds of cell division, the recipient M. capricolum chromosome disappeared having been replaced by the donor M. mycoides LC chromosome, and the M. capricolum cells took on all the phenotypic characteristics of M. mycoides LC cells.

As a test of the success of the genome transplantation, the team used two methods — 2D gel electrophoresis and protein sequencing, to prove that all the expressed proteins were now the ones coded for by the M. mycoides LC chromosome. Two sets of antibodies that bound specifically to cell surface proteins from each cell were reacted with transplant cells, to demonstrate that the membrane proteins switch to those dictated by the transplanted chromosome not the recipient cell chromosome. The new, transformed organisms show up as bright blue colonies in images of blots probed with M. mycoides LC specific antibody.

The group chose to work with these species of mycoplasmas for several reasons — the small genomes of these organisms which make them easier to work with, their lack of cell walls, and the team’s experience and expertise with mycoplasmas. The mycoplasmas used in the transplantation experiment are also relatively fast growing, allowing the team to ascertain success of the transplantation sooner than with other species of mycoplasmas:
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Dr. Lartigue and her team is excited by the results of the research, and the scientists are continuing to perfect and refine the techniques and methods as they move to the next phases and prepare to develop a fully synthetic chromosome.

Genome transplantation is an essential enabling step in the field of synthetic genomics as it is a key mechanism by which chemically synthesized chromosomes can be activated into viable living cells. The ability to transfer the naked DNA isolated from one species into a second microbial species paves the way for next experiments to transplant a fully synthetic bacterial chromosome into a living organism and if successful, “boot up” the new entity.

According to the JCVI there are many important applications of synthetic genomics research including development of new energy sources and as means to produce pharmaceuticals, chemicals or textiles. The research was funded by Synthetic Genomics Inc., Dr Venter's company.

Background and Ethical Considerations
The work described by Lartigue et al. has its genesis in research begun by Dr. Venter and colleagues in the mid-1990’s after sequencing Mycoplasma genitalium and beginning work on the 'minimal genome project'. This area of research, trying to understand the minimal genetic components necessary to sustain life, underwent significant ethical review by a panel of experts at the University of Pennsylvania. The bioethical group's independent deliberations, published at the same time as the scientific minimal genome research, resulted in a unanimous decision that there were no strong ethical reasons why the work should not continue as long as the scientists involved continued to engage public discussion.

In 2003 Drs. Venter, Smith and Hutchison made the first significant strides in the development of a synthetic genome by their work in assembling the 5,386 base pair bacteriophage φX174 (phi X). They did so using short, single strands of synthetically produced, commercially available DNA (known as oligonucleotides) and using an adaptation of polymerase chain reaction (PCR), known as polymerase cycle assembly (PCA), to build the phi X genome. The team produced the synthetic phi X in just 14 days.

Dr. Venter and the team at JCVI continue to be concerned with the societal implications of their work and the field of synthetic genomics generally. As such, the Institute’s policy team, along with the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), were funded by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for a 15-month study to explore the risks and benefits of this emerging technology, as well as possible safeguards to prevent abuse, including bioterrorism. After several workshops and public sessions the group is set to publish a report in summer 2007 outlining options for the field and its researchers.

Images: Colonies of the transformed Mycoplasma mycoides bacterium. Credit: J. Craig Venter Institute

Carole Lartigue, John I. Glass, Nina Alperovich, Rembert Pieper, Prashanth P. Parmar, Clyde A. Hutchison III, Hamilton O. Smith, J. Craig Venter, "Genome Transplantation in Bacteria: Changing One Species to Another", Science, Published Online June 28, 2007, DOI: 10.1126/science.1144622

J. Craig Venter Institute: JCVI Scientists Publish First Bacterial Genome Transplantation Changing One Species to Another - June 28, 2007.

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