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    Mongabay, a leading resource for news and perspectives on environmental and conservation issues related to the tropics, has launched Tropical Conservation Science - a new, open access academic e-journal. It will cover a wide variety of scientific and social studies on tropical ecosystems, their biodiversity and the threats posed to them. Tropical Conservation Science - March 8, 2008.

    At the 148th Meeting of the OPEC Conference, the oil exporting cartel decided to leave its production level unchanged, sending crude prices spiralling to new records (above $104). OPEC "observed that the market is well-supplied, with current commercial oil stocks standing above their five-year average. The Conference further noted, with concern, that the current price environment does not reflect market fundamentals, as crude oil prices are being strongly influenced by the weakness in the US dollar, rising inflation and significant flow of funds into the commodities market." OPEC - March 5, 2008.

    Kyushu University (Japan) is establishing what it says will be the world’s first graduate program in hydrogen energy technologies. The new master’s program for hydrogen engineering is to be offered at the university’s new Ito campus in Fukuoka Prefecture. Lectures will cover such topics as hydrogen energy and developing the fuel cells needed to convert hydrogen into heat or electricity. Of all the renewable pathways to produce hydrogen, bio-hydrogen based on the gasification of biomass is by far both the most efficient, cost-effective and cleanest. Fuel Cell Works - March 3, 2008.

    An entrepreneur in Ivory Coast has developed a project to establish a network of Miscanthus giganteus farms aimed at producing biomass for use in power generation. In a first phase, the goal is to grow the crop on 200 hectares, after which expansion will start. The project is in an advanced stage, but the entrepreneur still seeks partners and investors. The plantation is to be located in an agro-ecological zone qualified as highly suitable for the grass species. Contact us - March 3, 2008.

    A 7.1MW biomass power plant to be built on the Haiwaiian island of Kaua‘i has received approval from the local Planning Commission. The plant, owned and operated by Green Energy Hawaii, will use albizia trees, a hardy species that grows in poor soil on rainfall alone. The renewable power plant will meet 10 percent of the island's energy needs. Kauai World - February 27, 2008.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Nanosphere catalyst could improve biodiesel production

Victor Lin, an Iowa State University professor of chemistry and a program director for the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory has developed a catalyst based on nanospheres that could revolutionize the way biodiesel is produced. The particles and the precise chemistry filling the channels that run through them could make production cheaper, faster and less toxic.

The new catalyst could also produce a cleaner fuel and a cleaner glycerol co-product. And it could be used in existing biodiesel plants. The technology allows efficient conversion of vegetable oils or animal fats into fuel by loading the nanospheres with acidic catalysts to react with the free fatty acids and basic catalysts to react with the oils. The nanoparticles are recyclable.
This technology could change how biodiesel is produced [...] and could make production more economical and more environmentally friendly. - Victor Lin, Iowa State University professor of chemistry
Lin is working with Mohr Davidow Ventures, an early stage venture capital firm based in Menlo Park, California, the Iowa State University Research Foundation and three members of his research team to establish a startup company to produce, develop and market the biodiesel technology he invented at Iowa State.

The company, Catilin Inc., is just getting started in Ames. Catilin employees are now working out of two labs and a small office in the Roy J. Carver Co-Laboratory on the Iowa State campus. The company will also build a biodiesel pilot plant at the Iowa Energy Center's Biomass Energy Conversion Facility in Nevada. Lin said the company's goal over the next 18 months is to produce enough of the nanosphere catalysts to increase biodiesel production from a lab scale to a pilot-plant scale of 300 gallons per day.

Lin will work with three company researchers and co-founders to develop and demonstrate the biodiesel technology and production process. They are Project Manager Jennifer Nieweg, who will earn a doctorate in chemistry from Iowa State this summer; Research Scientist Yang Cai, who earned a doctorate in chemistry from Iowa State in 2004 and worked on campus as a post-doctoral research associate; and Research Scientist Carla Wilkinson, a former Iowa State post-doctoral research associate and a former faculty member at Centro Universitario UNIVATES in Brazil:
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Larry Lenhart, the president and chief executive officer of Catilin, said the company is now up and running. It has a research history. It has employees. It has facilities. It has money in the bank. And he said the company has proven technology to work with. The nanosphere-based catalyst reacts vegetable oils and animal fats with methanol to produce biodiesel. All that makes biodiesel production "dramatically better, cheaper, faster," Lenhart said.

The technology replaces sodium methoxide - a toxic, corrosive and flammable catalyst - in biodiesel production. And that eliminates several production steps including acid neutralization, water washes and separations. All those steps dissolve the toxic catalyst so it can't be used again.

Catilin's nanospheres are solid and that makes them easier to handle, Lenhart said. They can also be recovered from the chemical mixture and recycled. And they can be used in existing biodiesel plants without major equipment changes.

Lin said the catalyst has been under development for the past four years. The company will market the third generation of the catalyst -- a version that's much cheaper to produce than earlier, more uniform versions.

The technology was developed with the support of grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Basic Energy Sciences and the state's Grow Iowa Values Fund. Patents for the technology are pending. Catilin has signed licensing agreements with Iowa State's research foundation that allows the company to commercialize Lin's catalyst technologies.

As the company grows and demonstrates its technology, Lin said company leaders will have to decide whether the company will become a catalyst company, will work with partners to develop biodiesel plants or will produce its own biodiesel.

Even though he expects plenty of worldwide business for the new company, Lin said he'll continue to work as an Iowa State professor. "I'm not going to quit my day job," he said. "And I'll continue to do research in the catalysis and biorenewables area."

Nanotechnology is playing an ever greater role in bioenergy technologies. Researchers from China recently used carbon nanotubes loaded with rhodium (Rh) nanoparticles as reactors to convert a gas mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen into ethanol (more here).

Other applications include the development of gas storage media that can store many times more natural gas/biogas/biohydrogen than traditional gas tanks (earlier post and here), the creation of nano-enhanced biofuels and plant based oil (an example) and improved ways of utilizing biofuel waste streams (previous post).

In combination with biotechnology, nanotech promises to deliver major efficiency increases in agriculture (an overview).

: an example of selenium nanospheres formed by bacteria. Note, these are not the same nanospheres as the ones developed by professor Lin. Credit: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Iowa State University: Iowa State chemist hopes startup company can revolutionize biodiesel production - July 2, 2007.

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Revolution in the kitchen: 5000 Indian rural households receive smokeless biomass pellet stove

Over 5,000 rural households in the Madurai and Virudhunagar districts of Tamil Nadu state in India now have smokeless kitchens and a way to cut their household fuel bill by up to 50%. No longer do housewives and children have to put up with the smoke pollution coming from burning wood on open fires or kerosene in inefficient stoves - a true killer in the kitchen which, according to the WHO, costs up to 2 million lives annually in the developing world (earlier post). Nor do they have to bear the expensive LPG cylinder bills which drain household budgets.

This revolution in the kitchen is the result of the introduction of the smokeless 'Oorja' biomass stoves promoted by BP Energy India Limited. Developed in conjunction with the Indian Institute of Sciences, Bangalore, the stoves run on pellets made from local agricultural waste. The success of a pilot study of the stove in Tamil Nadu and Maharastra, which began in 2006, has encouraged the promoters to expand their operation to Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. According to a BP spokesperson, the stove has already reached 25,000 customers in the country. A small segment of the 2 billion people in the developing world who still rely on extremely inefficient and unhealthy cooking methods.

Many initiatives and attempts are underway to develop cooking stoves that reduce energy consumption. Traditional cooking methods such as burning wood and dung on open fires, can waste up to 90% of the energy contained in the fuel. This incredible inefficiency is a key driver of deforestation and, recent research shows, a serious culprit of climate change (earlier post). A good stove can help solve these problems, but it is not easy to design an appropriate device. Minimal requirements are:
  • a reduction of smoke pollution and particulate emissions
  • a radical increase energy efficiency
  • affordability and easy to use by rural households (this is a tall order, given that millions of households live on less than 2 dollars per day)
  • blend in with local cultural views on cooking, cuisine and using energy (high-tech devices will often not succeed; the famous example is that of stoves that can't be used to make flat types of bread)
  • be fuelled by locally available resources
Some designs rely on the use of liquid biofuels, others on biogas, solid biomass or bio-based gel fuels, but most are too expensive or may be too high-tech (such as the biomass powered thermoaccoustic device or the biogas powered stirling generator being developed).

The 'Oorja' stove however is one of the few designs that meets all the necessary requirements. Importantly, the device only costs around 675 rupiah (€12.2/US$16.6). The stove has a chamber for burning pellets and a mini-fan, powered by rechargeable batteries and controlled by a regulator, which blows air to fan the flames. The technology increases combustion efficiency, reduces fuel costs for the household by up to 50 percent and provides users with the option of using cleaner fuel.

The stove has helped C. Kasturi, of Perungudi in Madurai district, cut fuel cost by 50 percent. "For our family of six, we require 20 litres of kerosene every month. We get only 10 litres from the ration shop [for 90 rupiah]. We had to shell out more money for buying another 10 litres in the open market. [Now it costs around 30 rupiah a litre]." However, by using the stove, the family consumes only six bags of pellets (a 5-kg bag costs 20 rupiah) and three litres of kerosene. This combination of fuel costs her only 147 rupiah a month, whereas she was spending 390 rupiah a month earlier:
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"However, making 'dosas' and 'chappatis' is a problem, as the stove generates excessive heat. Besides, once it is lit, it cannot be stopped unlike LPG or kerosene stoves. Refuelling cannot be done midway," Ms. Kasturi says. The entire ash has to be replaced, and the stove has to be lit afresh. Though this can be done in a few minutes, Ms. Kasturi has learnt to finish cooking within the 75 minutes (the maximum burning time using 450 grams of pellets) by keeping vegetables and utensils ready before lighting the stove.

N. Muneeswari, one of the women of Aviyur in Virudhunagar district, has tested the stove too and says: "Cooking is faster with this stove. It leaves no smoke, so the utensils are very clean." For a joint family of five couples and children, the stove is used for making "sambar," "koottu" and "poriyal." The group still prefer the traditional open stoves to cook rice in large quantity. She has almost abandoned LPG stove ever since she started using this one in August last year.

BP Energy India is focussing on rural areas where people have limited, or no, access to clean and safer energy owing to economic reasons or poor service.

Picture: Smokeless 'Oorja' biomass stove that runs on burning pellets made up of agricultural waste being used in a house at Aviyur in Virudhunagar district. Credit: The Hindu.

The Hindu: A stove and a smokeless kitchen - July 2, 2007.

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

Biopact: Bosch and Siemens introduce biofuel cooking stove for developing world - May 20, 2007

Biopact: Biogas powered stirling generator for the developing world - June 29, 2007

Biopact: Ethanol gel fuel for cooking stoves revolutionizing African households - August 11, 2006

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Mozambique-India partnership: biofuels for poverty alleviation

Speaking at the opening of 'Conclave on India/Africa Project Partnership 2007' in Maputo, Mozambique's Minister of Energy, Salvador Namburete, said Mozambique has become "one of the major African destinations for investment from various parts of the planet."

The country is indeed one of Africa's success stories. After a cruel civil war that lasted nearly two decades (1975-1992), the country organised general elections, took a careful approach to the 'structural adjustment' programs introduced by international institutions like the World Bank and the IMF, and, ensuring political and economic stability, steadily attracted foreign investments. The country's GNI has doubled in the past 5 years, and GDP growth was 7.7% last year (World Bank data).

Investments not only include mega-projects such as the MOZAL aluminium smelter on the outskirts of Maputo, and the Brazilian investment in coal mining in the western province of Tete, but also a 'concerted effort by the government to promote the country's enormous business potential' to 'non-traditional' investors in Asia, including India. Namburete says the government hopes to see further investment in such areas as agriculture, food processing, mining and energy.

Biofuels and poverty alleviation
India is seen as a prime partner in the sector of renewable energy because of its growing expertise.
We would like to see Indian involvement in the field of renewable sources of energy. India has a very advanced experience in this area, in solar energy and in biofuels. Its technology is good, simple and easy to use, and that's what we need to fight against poverty.- Salvador Namburete, Mozambique's Minister of Energy
Namburete will also be present at the EU's high-level meeting on international biofuels trade to be held this Thursday in Brussels, where Mozambique's biofuel potential has been recognized. Biopact was invited to attend this two-day conference and we will be reporting on it from Friday onwards.

Namburete insisted that the Mozambican government remains committed to the promotion of biofuels "with the aim of responding to the national poverty alleviation agenda, as well as providing a response to high, unpredictable and volatile oil prices on the world markets". High oil prices are disastrous for developing countries, with some now spending twice as much on importing petroleum than on health. Among the benefits of biofuels the minister mentioned the fact that "they are labour intensive, and can create agricultural and agro-industrial employment, self-employment and income".

Producing biofuels does not threaten food security in Mozambique, given its vast unused land base. Estimates (map, click to enlarge) by researchers working for the International Energy Agency put the country's explicitly sustainable biofuel potential at around 6.7 to 7 Exajoules per year, with moderate introduction of agricultural technology and using strict sustainability criteria. 6.7EJ is the equivalent of around 3 million barrels of oil per day (earlier post). Namburete pointed out that Mozambique has 36 million hectares of arable land of which only nine per cent is currently in use:
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Furthermore, a crop like Jatropha curcas, can be grown "on an additional 41.2 million hectares of marginal land, giving people in rural areas the opportunity to generate an income out of land that did not produce anything at all".

Namburete pointed out that it was not enough that Mozambique had natural resources - the government had to take a pro-active role in attracting investment, though a consistent and coherent programme of reforms to ensure macro-economic stability and efficient management in selected priority areas, such as fiscal management, public sector and financial reforms, improving the investment climate and the ongoing reform of the judicial system.

The minister stressed that the government is taking further steps to reduce the cost of doing business in Mozambique through decentralisation, streamlining of licensing procedures, addressing the rigidities in the labour market, and improving basic infrastructure, such as energy, roads and telecommunications.

For his part, the Indian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anand Sharma, said that agriculture was vital for India's cooperation with Mozambique and other members of SADC (Southern African Development Communitry). "We want to cooperate with these countries and help Africa advance and improve its investment climate", he said.

Besides investors from India, several initiatives from Europe, Brazil and China have been launched in the country's biofuels sector (earlier post). Amongst them is a typical South-North-South exchange which sees Italy and Brazil cooperating on biofuels in Mozambique.

Agência de Informação de Moçambique (via AllAfrica): Mozambique: India Now Among Top Ten Investors - July 2, 2007.

Batidzirai, B., A.P.C. Faaij, E.M.W. Smeets (2006), "Biomass and
bioenergy supply from Mozambique"
[*abstract / *.pdf], Energy for Sustainable Development, X(1),
Pp. 54-81

Faaij, A.P.C., "Emerging international biomass markets and the potential implications for rural development" [*.pdf], Development and Climate Project Workshop: Rural development, the roles of food, water and biomass; opportunities and challenges; Dakar, Senegal, 14-16 November 2005.

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Portugal to invite Brazil as EU partner, Lula to be present at high-level biofuels meeting

The European Union has a rotating Presidency that changes every six months. Portugal is taking over from Germany and has announced that it will invite Brazil into a select club of EU strategic partner countries. The main reasons: the fact that the Latin American giant is the major biofuel producer and that it plays a crucial role in mitigating climate change. Another focus of Portugal's Presidency is aimed at boosting EU cooperation in Africa, particularly in the field of energy.

Portugal and Brazil have been cooperating intensively on producing biofuels in the South, not only in Brazil itself, but in Africa as well. This 'lusophone connection' brings both countries to former colonies, like Angola and Mozambique. Last week, a delegation of Brazilian government officials and business people met in Lisbon to discuss cooperation in biofuel production.

The invitation into the status of European Strategic partner will be announced tomorrow at Portugal's first summit as EU president. This EU-Brazil summit is set to allow the former Portuguese colony to join the ranks of countries such as the United States, Russia and China by 2008 as a partner of the 27-nation bloc.

The meeting of European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and other leaders signals a higher profile for Latin America in EU foreign policy as it shifts its focus from eastern Europe.

The partnership is meant to improve cooperation between the EU and Brazil in areas like trade, renewable energy and the fight against poverty.
Brazil has an important role in the production of biofuels and we will also look at ways to cooperate in that area. - Clara Borja, spokeswoman for Portugal's EU presidency.
Brussels sees Brazil - one of the world's biggest emerging economies which is home to most of the Amazon's rainforest and the major biofuels producer - as a key player in the fight against global warming, one of the EU's priorities. EU leaders agreed in March to a target for biofuels to represent at least 10 percent of vehicle fuels by 2020 (earlier post).

Afyer the summit in Lisbon, Lula is due to visit Brussels on Thursday for a two-day conference on biofuels trade, part of his country's push to foster consumption and production of fuel made from crops rather than fossil fuels. Biopact was invited to attend this conference and we will be reporting on it:
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The summit will also address bilateral trade and investment issues to complement the EU's talks for a trade deal with the Mercosur group of South American countries including Brazil.

These talks are on hold pending an outcome of struggling global trade talks at the World Trade Organisation, in which Brazil has locked horns with the EU and the United States.

Brazil is the EU's main trading partner in Latin America.

Trade with Brazil totalled around 39 billion euros ($53 billion) in 2005, the EU importing 23 billion euros, mostly agricultural products, and exporting 16 billion, according to the European Commission.

That is why Brazil's Lula has sounded an uncompromising note over the negotiations, saying rich nations must open up their markets to agricultural imports before demanding trade concessions from developing countries.

"We made a point of saying the days of subservience are over. We want to be treated as equals," the former union leader told workers at an auto industry event in Sao Paulo on Monday.

The Portuguese Presidency is further going to organise an EU-Africa Summit which will focus on the issues of migration, but also energy.

EU Commision, External Relations: The EU's relations with Brazil.

Euractiv: The Portuguese Presidency: In Brief - July 2, 2007.

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