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    Taiwan's Feng Chia University has succeeded in boosting the production of hydrogen from biomass to 15 liters per hour, one of the world's highest biohydrogen production rates, a researcher at the university said Friday. The research team managed to produce hydrogen and carbon dioxide (which can be captured and stored) from the fermentation of different strains of anaerobes in a sugar cane-based liquefied mixture. The highest yield was obtained by the Clostridium bacterium. Taiwan News - November 14, 2008.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Emigration of unskilled workers increases child labor

In a provocative new study appearing in the July issue of the Journal of Labor Economics, economists Elias Dinopoulous (University of Florida) and Laixun Zhao (Kobe University) formally analyze the effects of globalization on child labor. The authors find [*abstract] that emigration of unskilled adult workers from poor countries to rich countries increases the incidence of child labor. Surprisingly, the authors also found that child-wage subsidies, such as subsidized meals, increase the incidence of child labor by lowering the costs of child labor to employers.

The topic is of interest to the Biopact, because some African countries, like Senegal, as well as EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Development, Louis Michel, have stressed that bioenergy production may offer an opportunity to reduce emigration pressures. Tens of thousands of Africans try to reach Europe each year, at the risk of losing their lives in the process, and Senegal is key transit point (map, click to enlarge). The country's president, Abdoulaye Wade, is one of the staunchest advocates of utilising biofuels as a way to secure jobs on the continent and thus to reduce emigration flows. Their potential to generate employment and wealth amongst rural communities makes that biofuels can contribute to relieving two waves typical of this exodus: poverty-driven internal migration from rural areas to the cities, and the poverty encountered there by unskilled workers who then decide to migrate further (earlier post).

The researchers say that the problem of child labor is arguably one of the most important issues of our time:
Excessive effort, hazardous work, bonded labor, armed conflict, prostitution and pornography, long work hours, unhealthy working conditions, absence of schooling, malnutrition, and sexual harassment acquire a different meaning when applied to children. The phenomenon of child labor has been viewed as an epidemic of the global economy that must eventually be eliminated.
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), about 15 percent of children worldwide between the ages of 5 and 14 are classified as child laborers. Of these working children, about 171 million children work in hazardous conditions and 5.7 million are forced to work against their will.
Analyzing the economic effects of globalization on the incidence of child labor constitutes a high research and policy priority. Lower migration barriers that induce unskilled adult workers to migrate from poor to rich countries, alone or with their children, increase the incidence of child labor.
In contrast to prior economic models about child labor that assume altruistic parents reluctant to part with their children, Dinopoulos and Zhao propose a model that incorporates the idea that at least some children go to work because their parents are eager for the additional income:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The study also assumes that while skilled and educated adults can do things children cannot do - working as foremen, supervisors or machine operators - children can perform similar work as unskilled adult workers, especially in the agrarian sector.

The analysis further shows other conditions under which globalization-related changes can affect the incidence of child labor, including trade policies that encourage the production of child-labor intensive products and taxes that discourage foreign investment in child-labor-free sectors in developing countries.

When it comes to the poverty-alleviating power of bioenergy, it is clear that the sector is no panacea. As Dinopoulous and Zhao show, child labor often occurs in the agrarian sector. So in the context of biofuels, the issue remains highly complex and carries risks:
  • biofuel production may offer jobs and additional incomes for rural populations, reducing emigration pressures, and thus indirectly lead to a reduction of child labor
  • but biofuel production may just as well entice parents who see the opportunity for additional incomes to push their children into farm labor directly
As for all products, national governments must be encouraged to monitor and fight child labor, in biofuel production as well; wealthy nations and consumers can contribute by demanding full transparency from companies who produce exportable goods in developing countries. When it comes to biofuels, social sustainability criteria will obviously have to include clear provisions aimed at monitoring and preventing child labor.

Picture: Bitter chocolate: An African child drying cacao beans in West Africa's plantations. Credit: Project Hope and Fairness.

Map: Key migrant routes from Africa to Europe. Courtesy: BBC.

Elias Dinopoulos and Laixun Zhao, "Child Labor and Globalization" [*abstract], Journal of Labor Economics, 2007, vol. 25, no. 3.

BBC: Destination Europe: Key facts: Africa to Europe migration.

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Chile and the U.S. to cooperate on biofuels development

U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and his delegation of U.S. Department of Energy officials conclude their tour of South America by signing [*Spanish] a biofuels research and development cooperation agreement with Chile. Earlier they visited Brazil where the previously signed U.S.-Brazil ethanol agreement was further discussed. However, Brazil did not succeed in persuading the American delegation to plea for a reduction of U.S. farm subsidies.

Paulson met with Chilean president Michelle Bachelet and stressed that the U.S. bioenergy initiative is focused on the entire Latin-American region. It will be managed by the Department of Energy (USDOE).

Noting that a number of Latin American nations struggle to meet energy demand, Paulson said the region has a common interest in sharing technology and developing new energy sources - especially clean and renewable ones.

In Chile, the U.S. wants to help develop biofuel research and production from new, non-food crops that thrive in arid environments. Both countries could greatly benefit from this, as both in Chile and the U.S., new farmland is scarce, but semi-arid zones are plenty. Technologies will be shared to convert biomass into liquid fuels and other biomaterials.
This initiative is aimed at cooperating and jointly researching biofuel development. We will focus on biofuels that have the following characteristics: they are clearly 'clean' [i.e. they help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution], energy efficient and at the same time are derived from new, non-food crops. - Andres Velasco, Chile's Finance Minister
The cooperation will be coordinated by a consortium of universities, research organisations and industry, united in the Corporación de Fomento de la Producción (CORFO), already active in researching renewable energies.

Chile currently suffers under a great energy deficit, and has had to take emergency measures to get both natural gas and liquid fuels supplied from neighboring countries. Lack of investment in energy infrastructures during previous governments is partly to blame. High energy costs and energy dependence are factors as well.

For the U.S., Paulson stressed, energy security is not only a national issue; the security of supplies in other countries is important for geostrategic reasons. "All of us stand to benefit from security of energy supplies", Paulson said.

Some analysts see Washington's biofuels initiative in the region as a way to counter the rising influence of Venezuala's Hugo Chávez, who is an outspoken critic of the U.S. and who uses petroleum as a geopolitical weapon:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Meeting with Finance Minister Andres Velasco, Paulson praised Chile's committment to neo-liberal market economics, despite Bachelet being a social-democrat and despite the region's turn to the left.

The Secretary further visited Urugay and Brazil, where new bilateral relations were discussed. The Brazilian government, who leads the G20 group of developing nations in trade negotiations, aims to get the U.S. to reduce its annual farm subsidies from the current $17billion to $12 billion - a precondition for the G20 to accept any Doha deal. The American delegation did not signal any way forward on this longstanding issue.

The U.S. delegation met in Montevideo with Uruguay's president Tabaré Vázquez, and with the Ministers of Economy of Uruguay, Mexio and Chile to discuss bilateral and multilateral cooperation on other fronts. Paulson stressed the U.S. is willing to cooperate with Latin American countries, on the condition that they are clearly committed to free market economics.

Ministerio de Hacienda: Chile y Estados Unidos anuncian colaboración energética centrada en desarrollo de biocombustibles - July 13, 2007.

Gobierno de Chile: Presidenta Bachelet se reunió con secretario del tesoro de Estados Unidos - July 13, 2007.

U.S. Dept. of the Treasury: Treasury Secretary Paulson Visits Brazil, Uruguay and Chile This Week - July 11, 2007.

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The Talk of Paris: Lula answers some tough questions on biofuels and social justice

Before he addressed the International Conference on Biofuels that shifted the EU's vision on biofuels production and trade, Brazil's president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva signed a strategic partnership with the Union. It is the first Latin-American country to do so. Biofuels formed an essential part of the partnership, with the EU accepting the vision that the green fuels may contribute to poverty alleviation in the South and that they are one of the few pragmatic options to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. France24 interviewed Lula, and asked him some tough questions on the sustainability of these green fuels, on social justice in Brazil and the Global South, and on economic and trade issues.

Ulysse Gosset hosts the 'The Talk of Paris', and asks Brazil's leader whether biofuels don't threaten the Amazon, and what their impact will be on food production. Lula is also presented with the criticisms on biofuels expressed by his left-wing collegues, Ugo Chavez and Fidel Castro (earlier post and here).
When it comes to food versus fuel, Lula responds that high oil prices have a much more serious impact not only on agricultural production, but on the economy as a whole. Biofuels may soften these impacts. A few years ago, oil cost $28 a barrel, today it is well above $70. This presents a challenge for energy intensive developing countries whose entire economy is affected. Brazil's biofuels alternative saves large sums of oil expenditures and could offer a pathway out of oil dependence for other countries, especially in Africa. With part of the savings, Brazil implements social programmes aimed at alleviating poverty.

The talk further includes a short biographical sketch showing how the 'president of the poor' made it from being a steel worker and union leader, to becoming the pragmatic left-wing president of Latin-America's largest and fastest growing nation. Other topics discussed are the development of Mercosur - the South American common market - and the different perspectives on how to consolidate Latin America's recent swing to the left. The difficult Doha round of trade negotiations receives some attention, with Lula calling for more global solidarity and economic justice. Spreading Brazil's biofuels model to Africa, with wealthy countries contributing to kickstarting a green revolution on the continent, is part of this international agenda. On a more general level, Lula sees a shift in power from the 'West' to the Global South, and to a more multi-polar world. This has implications for geopolitics and international relations [entry ends here].
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Friday, July 13, 2007

Market study tracks global boom in biogas, Germany technology leader

According to a new report released by Helmut Kaiser Consultancy, the market for biogas plants is seeing an explosive growth worldwide in municipalities, industry and agriculture, with the sector's investments set to expand from around €2 billion in 2006 to €25 billion by 2020. The key to participate competitively in this market is advanced knowledge in biotechnology, molecular science, and a push towards the convergence of nanotechnology, biotechnology and IT ('nano-bio-it').

The study shows that over the past few years, the biogas market has been growing at a rate of 20 to 30 percent annually, depending on the country. The study is the first analysis of the global market for biogas plants in 50 countries, projecting future potentials and developments to 2030, with a focus on the development of new technologies and drivers of worldwide competition.

Germany as a technology leader reached investment levels of around €700 million in 2006 with 400 companies involved in segments of the sector and 100 companies offering the whole value chain. Export of biogas related technologies and services is between 10 and 15 percent. The production of biomethane is Germany's fastest growing renewables sector, outpacing both wind, solar and other types of biomass use (earlier post).

In Germany alone, 900 new plants were built in 2006, reaching a total of 3,600. By 2020, the market size in the country is expected to reach €7.5 billion for plants, with 30 percent coming from exports. Some 85,000 full and direct jobs will be created in the sector in Germany.

In Europe, biogas is being developed on a large scale for the production of fuels for stationary power generation (to be used in natural gas plants or in fuel cells), as well as for the transport sector (earlier post and here). It is being fed into the natural gas grid on a large scale (previous post and especially here) or in dedicated pipelines supplying cities, while some are creating real biorefineries around it that deliver green specialty chemicals, fuels and power (earlier post). The green gas can be made by the anaerobic fermentation of biomass, either obtained from dedicated energy crops (such as specially bred grass species, biogas maize or sugarcane), or from industrial, municipal or agricultural waste-streams.

Of all biofuels, biogas delivers most energy per hectare of crops. It is also the least carbon intensive production path, with some biogas pathways actually delivering carbon-negative bioenergy (earlier post and here). Importantly, biogas can be integrated in carbon capture and storage systems (CCS), in a way that presents advantages over other CCS pathways (earlier post).

According to the Helmut Kaiser Consultancy report, the world market for biogas currently has a value of around €2 billion, expected to grow to €25 billion by 2020. But the competition is growing, worldwide. Even though some projections show biogas may replace all of Europe's natural gas imports from Russia by 2020 and yield up to 500 billion cubic meters per year (earlier post), the report sees an even greater potential for biomethane in the U.S. and China:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Many plants today remain low tech and easy to reproduce and design. To acquire a competitive edge, the key is knowledge in biotechnology, molecular science and optimization in the future. Biogas is part of a rapidly growing renewable energy sector, that saw investments leaping to around $100 billion in 2006 (earlier post).

According to the report, the total energy mix of the future will be more regenerative and sustainable. The generation and storage of renewable energy will be the fastest growing sector in energy market for next 20 years. The market volume of renewable energy worldwide will increase from US$ 95.8 billion in 2007 to US$ 124.4 billion in 2010 and reach US$ 198.1 billion in 2015. These figures and developments are based on the whole value chain.

Biogas power plants are a combination of anaerobic digestion systems with associated electricity generators such as gas turbines or gas engines. The electricity they produce is classified as renewable or green energy and if sold into the national grid attract subsidies.

In the last 20 years, biogas utilisation been successful in wastewater treatment plants, industrial processing applications, landfill and the agricultural sector.
The future increase use of biogas is a strong goal in most countries, not only because is it a renewable energy source but it will help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution and soil degradation and last not least it will change agriculture sectors in many countries worldwide to produce partly energy.

For a more in-depth overview of why analysts think 2007 is the year of biogas, see here.

PRLog: Biogas Plant Markets boom Worldwide in Municipalities, Industry and Agriculture. Profit potential high - July 13, 2007.

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Indian company proposes to invest $150 million in Suriname's biofuel and bioenergy sector

India’s Enhanced Biofuel Technologies (EBT) has proposed plans to the Suriname government to invest up to US$150 million in bioenergy, the Surinamese Council of Ministers disclosed this week. EBT has submitted a business plan to the government covering 7 years in developing new crops for the production of biofuels.

Meanwhile, the Ministries of Agriculture [*Dutch], Natural Resources and Spatial Zoning, Land and Forest Management are reviewing the proposals, while a Memorandum of Understanding is being drafted.

“If the government decides to cooperate with this company and the project is successful, Suriname will play a major role in the field of bioenergy in the region,” said the cabinet in a press release.

'Social sustainability'

EBT is aming at reducing dependency on fossil fuels and relieving pressure on the environment by growing perennial energy crops and by utilizing biomass waste streams from farming comunities to produce green electricity. Most importantly, it has created a social sustainability program that should ensure feedstock growers and communities benefit from biofuel production.

The integrated social sustainability scheme is built around a stream of byproducts and coproducts flowing back to the communities, either in a material form (e.g. livestock feed, biofertiliser), in the form of energy (e.g. electricity from biomass residues) or in an immaterial form (sales of bioproducts) (schematic, click to enlarge).

The strategy of EBT is to grow Jatropha curcas in a series of tropical and subtropical countries, like Suriname, for the global market. Within 5 years time, the company plans to begin to make an impact on replacing rapeseed oil based biodiesel in Europe and North America (schematic, click to enlarge):
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

EBT is a commercially-driven business that addresses the pressing global issues of the scarcity of fuel supply, climate change, poverty reduction and sustainable development. The company is building a global production, supply and distribution chain for the high volume production of commercialized renewable, energy efficient and reduced carbon emission fuels.

Energy production on a global scale will require the sourcing of vast quantities of crude vegetable oil, the company says on its website. EBT has negotiated the procurement of rapeseed, palm oil and soya bean, while creating projects to increase the growth of energy crops in rural communities.

EBT fuels are targeted at industries that are amongst the highest producers of carbon emissions and other toxins, including cement, mining, and power generation.

According to EBT, crops such as sunflower, rapeseed and tree-borne oil seeds like Jatropha Curcas provide rich biomass and nutrients for soil whilst combating degradation of land, a problem affecting millions of hectares of land world wide, particularly in the subtropical zones which will be the focus of the agricultural extension kit’s deployment.

In 2007, EBT will begin the process of delivering the company to market in the UK, in India and alternative energy development markets. For the past two years the company has continually invested into the development of a global platform of corperate endevour in India, South East Asia, Africa, the Middle East, USA, Canada, UK, EU, South America and the Caribbean.

Besides biofuels from energy crops, EBT is researching the production of biohydrogen from algae.

Caribbean News Network: Indian company proposes million-dollar bio-energy investment in Suriname - July 13, 2007

Government of Suriname: Ministerie van Planning en Ontwikkelingssamenwerking [*Dutch].

Government of Suriname: Ministerie van Landbouw, Veeteelt en Visserij [*Dutch]

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

EU and China agree on joint development of knowledge-based bioeconomy

If China wants to keep growing economically, it has no choice but to transit towards a sustainable and highly efficient bio-based economy. The People's Republic has understood this and the idea of such a 'circular' and 'cradle-to-cradle' economy in which products and processes rely on biomass and biotechnology is now an official policy in the new Five Year Plan.

The concept of the knowledge based bioeconomy was developed during a series of European conferences several years back, resulting in a report [*.pdf] about the way forward. Today, it is an official and well-funded (€1.8/US$2.5 billion) research field under the 7th Framework Programme (see the CORDIS Knowledge-Based BioEconomy service and the dedicated European bioeconomy website). Ultimately, these efforts must lead to the creation or a real 'biosociety'.

The green vision on the production of goods and services is based on transforming knowledge from the life sciences into new, sustainable, eco-efficient and competitive products. From bioplastics to biofuels, in a circular, bio-based economy both the carbon cycle as well as the product cycles are clean and closed. Waste is no longer a useful concept, because what is seen as waste for one type of product is feedstock for another. The typical productive unit of this plant-based economy of the future is the integrated biorefinery.

The EU has been promoting the bioeconomy within the Union and abroad, and it was high on the agenda during Germany's presidency of the Council of the EU. This signals a conceptual shift away from the 'resource nationalism' so typical of fossil fuel based industrialisation, and towards a more reciprocal relationship between nations who share knowledge and experience on developing sustainable, bio-based processes. Recently, a joint statement outlining the commitment of the European Commission and China to establishing a knowledge-based bioeconomy was signed in Beijing on 6 July, with this spirit in mind.

The joint statement, which comes during the China-EU Science and Technology Year, was signed by Christian Patermann, Director of the Biotechnology, Agriculture and Food Directorate within the Commission's Research DG, and by Wang Hongguang on behalf of the China National Centre for Biotechnology Development.
We want to foster our cooperation with the largest and the most populated country in the world. [...] We are very much impressed by the very modern style, the very good equipment, the dedication of their people, their interest in cooperation. This is no longer a developing country. It's a country where we can also work on the basis of reciprocity - in the areas of co-funding, sharing views, sharing knowledge, in scientific and other technical areas. - Christian Patermann, Director of the Biotechnology, Agriculture and Food Directorate within the Commission's Research DG
A workshop held in Beijing on 2 and 3 July led to the identification of new ways to promote cooperation between the two nations. The gathering identified the following research fields for the possible development of joint actions. The list will be reviewed in 2009 and 2011:
  • waste processing and use, in particular with respect to bioethanol and biodiesel
  • biocatalysis for food and non-food uses
  • sustainable agro-forestry and plantation forestry
  • biofertiliser, biopesticides
  • animal, plant and fish breeding (genetically modified (GM) and non-GM)
  • animal diseases and control; animal drugs, vaccines and vaccination strategies
  • food safety, nutrition and health
Both parties have 'long been engaged in a fruitful dialogue on the establishment of a Knowledge-Based BioEconomy (KBBE) and on related research (agriculture, forestry, fisheries, aquaculture, food and biotechnologies),' according to the statement:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

This dialogue has included the participation of Chinese partners in 15 projects under the Food Quality and Safety section of the EU's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6).

Any ensuing future joint actions will be met by reciprocal scientific, technical and financial commitment, the statement makes clear. Mr Patermann says that European partners will very soon be participating in calls for proposals for Chinese research programmes. And the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) is of course open to Chinese participation.

The statement also envisages joint meetings on a 12 or 18-month basis, and the possible establishment of an 'EU-China Platform on the Knowledge-Based BioEconomy'.

AlphaGalileo: Joint development of knowledge-based bioeconomy agreed in EU-China statement - July 11, 2007

European Commission: China-EU Science and Technology Year.

Europa, CORDIS, 7th Framework Programme: European Knowledge Based Bioeconomy.

European Commission, Research: New Perspectives on the Knowledge Based Bio-Economy. Conference Report [*.pdf, 2.9MB], September, 2005.

European Commission, Community Research: presentation of the bioeconomy [*.pdf].

European Commission, Research: the Biosociety website.

German Presidency of the EU: "En Route to a Knowledge-Based Bio-Economy" [*.pdf], high-level conference of the German Presidency of the Council of the European Union, - May 30th 2007.

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Geldof: biofuels have 'life-changing' effects on rural Africa

Irish rocker and activist Bob Geldof has thrown his weight behind a new project aimed at producing electricity from plant seeds in Africa. Geldof has joined Britain's Helius Energy Plc as a special adviser to support the company's bioenergy projects across the continent, which is seeing demand for power surge and which feels the impact of high oil prices more than any other region. Helius, listed on London’s Alternative Investment Market (AIM), is currently in discussion with South Africa's Eskom to supply the power utility with renewable energy, generated from biomass crops such as jatropha curcas, the seeds of which are a biodiesel feedstock.

Speaking at a press conference in Johannesburg, Geldof said that bioenergy could simulate the economic growth required to lift Africa from poverty. “I do not use the word life-changing lightly,” Geldof said, adding that jatropha curcas was the first solution that he had seen in his 23 years of involvement with African causes that offered Africans jobs, cash crops and economic power.
Power through renewable energies is and will be a major tool for developing countries, particularly for rural populations. The potential is enormous, I think it will be extraordinary if the model is replicated in other parts of Africa, it will have life-changing effects. - Sir Bob Geldof
He pointed out that the failure of the Doha Development Round – the World Trade Organisation negotiations that aimed to lower trade barriers around the world, permitting free trade between countries of varying prosperity – and the unlikelihood of a standalone trade agreement for Africa, made it all the more important to find a solution for Africa’s farmers. Biofuels offer such a solution:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Geldof spoke to the media after returning from a trip to Swaziland where he visited jatropha curcas plantations planted by biodiesel producer D1 Oils. Pointing to a jatropha curcas seedling on the table, Geldof said that “the potential effect of this little fellow is enormous”.

Geldof said that he was impressed by the “life-changing” potential that the cultivation of jatropha curcas trees could have on poverty-stricken African communities. The oil expelled from the tree’s seeds can be processed into biofuels and the remaining plant material can be used to fire biomass energy-generation plants.

The activist was accompanied by Helius Energy chairperson Alex Worrall and Helius Energy co-founder and D1 Oils Africa CEO Demetri Pappadopoulos. Pappadopoulos said that every hectare of jatropha curcas would produce 2,7 tons of oil and 4,4 tons of biomass.

D1 Oils Africa has obtained rights to plant more than 40 000 ha of jatropha curcas in Africa, including Swaziland and Zambia. However, the South African Department of Agriculture is yet to publish its policy on Jatropha curcas, which is currently viewed as an invasive tree.

Pappadopoulos said that the first power from jatropha curcas biomass could be produced in the next three years when D1 Oils Africa expects to harvest the first commercial crops in Swaziland and Zambia.

South Africa
In South Africa, Helius will install and operate both large 50-65MWe and small modular 5MWe biomass-powered electricity generation plants designed to meet the growing need for reliable power and support the essential move away from fossil fuels both for economic and environmental reasons, whilst taking advantage of renewable energy legislation developed to combat climate change.

This is good news for South Africa where recent, and anticipated ongoing, electricity shortages have demonstrated that the current power output is close to installed capacity. Helius is pursuing opportunities to develop its 50MWe biomass power plants and its modular GreenSwitch™ 5MWe plants in the country.

Dr Mohammed Jahed of Helius Energy Africa, comments, “The commitment to a greener, cleaner energy solution is one that is being made globally by Governments and business alike. This along with the existing climate offers an ideal opportunity for the introduction of ‘Green Electricity’ into the Southern African market.”

Helius is currently in discussions with Eskom proposing to become a significant Independent Power Provider with special emphasis on renewables. Additionally, Helius has been approached to join the Power Commissions Working Party in Zambia and is in discussion with the Government of Zambia for the establishment of new power plants, and the upgrading of existing facilities. The company is also in discussion with the Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland for a power supply agreement.

These projects will go a long way to securing electricity in Southern Africa, which is facing an ever-growing energy crisis.

Dr Jahed of Helius Energy Africa concludes, “We believe that with the involvement of Sir Bob Geldof we will raise the bar and ultimately awareness of the current energy crisis facing Africa and the solution offered by Helius to take advantage of the exciting opportunities to develop biomass as a sustainable source of renewable power.”

Elsewhere in Africa
Besides being in discussion with Eskom, Helius Energy is in talks with the government of Zambia concerning the establishment of new power plants and the upgrading of existing facilities. The company is also in discussion with the Swazi government for a power supply agreement.

In addition to using biomass from jatropha curcas, Helius is also investigating the potential of using other biomass sources including the plant material remaining from bioethanol production.

In another development, petrochemical giant BP and D1 Oils Africa’s parent company, AIM-listed D1 Oils, have announced plans to establish a global joint venture based on the planting of Jatropha curcas trees.

D1 Oils Africa corporate affairs executive Penny Healy tells Engineering News that the proposed joint venture – which is subjected to the approval of D1 shareholders at an extraordinary general meeting to be held in the next few weeks – is “a huge vote of confidence” for cultivating jatropha curcas as a feedstock for biodiesel production.

Picture: Irish pop musician Bob Geldof addresses a news conference in Berlin April 24, 2007. Geldof has thrown his weight behind a new project aimed at producing electricity from plant seeds in Africa.

Helius Energy: Sir Bob Geldof gives the green light to renewable electricity - July 12, 2007.

Reuters: Geldof lends voice to green electricity for Africa - July 12, 2007.

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Research shows context affects opinion about novel energy sources: the example of biomass

Opinions people have about innovations are influenced by the context in which they form their opinion. For example, opinions about a novel energy source like biomass are influenced by thoughts regarding other energy sources. The less knowledge, interest or time people have, the stronger this effect. Sustainable energy options must therefore be promoted in the right context says Dutch researcher Wouter van den Hoogen.

The researcher at the J.F. Schouten School for User-System Interaction - Eindhoven University of Technology, wrote his PhD. thesis on the subject, as part of the Dutch government programme 'Biomass as a sustainable energy source: environmental load, cost-effectiveness and public acceptance', financed by the NWO/SenterNovem Stimulation programme Energy research. The aim of the programme is to develop knowledge in the natural sciences and humanities for the transition to sustainable energy supplies.

People frequently form opinions about new technologies, such as novel energy options, despite having a very limited knowledge of the subject concerned. The subject is often complex and people are either not particularly interested or have limited time. Wouter van den Hoogen’s research indicates that the opinions people form about various energy sources are related to each other.

The researcher argues that an integrated communication strategy should be used for the acceptance of each type of sustainable energy source introduced to the Dutch market. Promoting one specific energy source can adversely affect the acceptance of other new energy sources.

In seven experiments Van den Hoogen examined the boundary conditions within which so-called 'context effects' can occur. A context effect occurs if a person’s opinion about new technologies depends on subtle differences in the context in which the technology is introduced. The theme of these experiments was energy from biomass:
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It appeared that people were only sensitive for subtle differences in context if they had a weak basic attitude towards the subject. When people had a weak opinion, and another energy source was casually mentioned just before the assessment of biomass, then their opinion about the use of biomass was assimilated to the use of the other energy source.

Biomass was assessed more positively if sunlight was mentioned in this context, compared to when coal was mentioned. This is because people use the information in context, as an interpretation framework for assessing the unknown item. Still, this assimilation effect did not always occur in the experiments. Sometimes a comparison with the context led to a contrast effect: in this case, biomass was valued more highly if it was compared to coal and valued less if compared to solar energy. Although the assimilation effects also occurred when people were hindered from thinking, contrast effects required mental effort.

NWO: Context affects opinion about novel energy sources - July 4, 2007.

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What we really need: a study showing the effects of high oil prices on food

Until now, we have seen reports about the potential effects of large scale biofuel production on food prices. These studies are important, but incomplete because they do not analyse the opportunity costs of competitive biofuels at high oil prices. Some media have drawn the straightforward but quite deceptive conclusion from the studies that biofuels are to blame for ending the era of cheap food. Reality is a bit more complex than this.

What we really need are studies showing the effects of high oil prices on agriculture and food as compared to the effects of biofuels. Why are biofuels produced in the first place? Because they reduce the cost of transport fuels. Take the Brazilian example: a barrel of oil equivalent ethanol costs between US$ 35 and 40. Crude oil currently costs more than US$ 70 per barrel, which makes gasoline without taxes standing at around US$100 per barrel. In short, the biofuel costs a third, to half as much as the refined oil alternative.

In this context it is not difficult to see that ultimately high oil prices are to blame for increasing food prices, and not biofuels. Biofuels may result in costlier food, but the opportunity costs are: even higher food prices and generalised inflation. It is about time some major economic, agriculture and social think tanks start making this comparison.

Transport fuels are used in all economic sectors and thus have impacts not only on food prices, but on the entire economy. This is especially true for developing economies with a high 'energy intensity' (the amount of oil and energy needed to produce an amount of GDP). They suffer most. But even in highly developed economies, high oil prices drive inflation.

There are few studies analysing the effects of high oil prices on food prices, compared to the biofuels effect. A recent analysis [*.pdf] written by LEGC, an expert services firm, does give us some clues, though: it shows that high energy costs, especially those of crude oil, have a far bigger impact on retail food prices than biofuels based on food crops like corn. Note that corn ethanol is used in this study, whereas we urge for a study starting out with a comparison of all types of biofuels, including competitive and unsubsidised fuels such as sugarcane ethanol or palm oil biodiesel. This aside, the findings are important because they indicate that biofuels, by replacing costly oil, slow down the growth rate of the increase in prices for food, as measured by the Consumer Price Index. Put differently, not producing biofuels that replace costly oil, means food prices would increase even faster than they are currently doing:
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The argument is critical: rising oil prices have an impact not only on food prices, but on all sectors of the economy. Biofuel production on the contrary only has a relatively small impact (compared to oil's effect) on food prices, but can replace costly oil and help reduce the over-all effects of oil price related inflation in all sectors of the economy. Energy demand is as price inelastic as food demand, which means it just as important a product for consumers.

According to the study, the spike in US retail food prices is driven by rapidly growing demand, by skyrocketing oil and transportation costs, and by increased processing and packaging costs, a result of increased energy prices. The use of corn for ethanol plays a marginal role, the report finds. What is more, the study also shows that distiller’s grains, a byproduct of ethanol production and a high quality livestock feed, may help put downward pressure on food prices as livestock farmers purchase the grains instead of corn (table, click to enlarge).

The study was written by LEGC, a global expert services firm, and published by the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) (this warrants some caution, because the RFA is known as a staunch advocate of corn based ethanol).

The purpose of the study titled, "The Relative Impact of Corn and Energy Prices in the Grocery Aisle" [*.pdf] is to examine and compare the impact on consumer food prices resulting from increases in respectively petroleum and corn prices. It found that increasing oil prices have about twice the impact on consumer food prices as equivalent increases in corn prices:
A 33 percent increase in crude oil prices – which translates into a $1.00 per gallon increase in the price of conventional regular gasoline – results in a 0.6 percent to 0.9 percent increase in the CPI for food while an equivalent increase in
corn prices ($1.00 per bushel) would cause the CPI for food to increase only 0.3 percent.
The reason for the larger impact on food prices from petroleum and energy prices stems from the relative importance of energy in food production, packaging, and distribution compared to that of a single ingredient. While petroleum and energy prices affect virtually all aspects of agricultural raw material transportation, processing, and distribution of all finished consumer food products, corn prices affect only a segment of consumer foods – livestock, poultry and dairy.

Corn is an important feed ingredient for livestock and poultry producers and changes in corn prices can have significant impacts on profitability and production. However, meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products account for only a fifth of the CPI for food which, in turn, is only 15 percent of the overall CPI. Crude oil and refined petroleum prices have increased sharply over the past several years and have put considerable pressure on consumers. Energy plays a significant role in the production of raw agricultural commodities, transportation and processing, and distribution of finished consumer food products. Several studies have looked at the impact of increased energy prices on food prices:
  • Reed, Hanson, Elitzak and Schluter utilized three different model structures to examine the impact of a doubling of crude oil prices on the CPI for food. They conclude that the short run impact of a doubling (e.g. 100 percent increase) in crude oil prices would cause a 1.82 percent rise in average food prices in the short run and 0.27 percent in the long run.
  • A more recent analysis published by Chinkook Lee examined the impact of energy price increases as an intermediate input for food processing and concluded that a 10 percent increase in energy prices results in a 0.2709 percent increase in the purchase (consumer) price of food and kindred products prices.
Earlier corn prices also have increased significantly over the past year as the markets have recognized the impact of increasing ethanol production on corn demand. The price of No. 2 Yellow corn at Central Illinois averaged $3.56 per bushel in May 2007, nearly 60 percent higher than yearago levels. The USDA and many private sector forecasters project ethanol production to exceed 15 billion gallons by 2017, utilizing more than 4 billion bushels of corn and maintaining corn prices well above $3.00 per bushel for most of the decade.

LEGC evaluated the impact of an increase in petroleum prices on consumer prices food prices by applying the impact elasticities summarized above to an assumed 33 percent increase in crude oil (the equivalent of a $1.00 increase in retail gasoline prices from current levels). To determine the impact of an increase in corn prices on livestock, poultry, dairy and consumer food prices the authors imposed a 33 percent increase in corn prices (about $1.00 per bushel from current levels) on the current LECG agricultural sector baseline forecast over the five year period 2007 through 2012. This is consistent with the increase in corn prices that has occurred over the past year.

The analyses by Reed and Lee indicate that a 33 percent increase in oil/energy prices would increase retail food prices by 0.6 percent and 0.9 percent. Reed indicates that a 100 percent increase in crude oil prices results in a shortterm increase of 1.82 percent in consumer food prices while Lee reports that a 10 percent increase in energy prices provides a 0.2709 percent increase in retail food prices. Restating these on an equivalent 33 percent basis (1.82 percent times .33 and 0.2709 times 3.3) provides the 0.6 to 0.9 percent range.

The equivalent 33 percent increase in corn prices over the fiveyear period is expected to reduce beef, pork, and broiler production by 2.6 percent between 2008 and 2012 and increase prices by 2.4 percent. Combined with higher turkey, egg, and dairy prices, the CPI for food is projected to increase an additional 0.3 percent. This result is consistent with the 0.2 percent contribution to food price inflation between September 2006 and April 2007 from meat, poultry, fish and dairy and the $1.15 per bushel increase in cash market corn prices.

The authors state that the days of cheap corn are more likely than not over. Livestock and poultry producers who enjoyed low and relatively stable corn (and other feed) prices over most of the past decade are now faced with the challenge of adjusting to an environment of higher feed prices. The new reality is that corn prices are likely to remain nearer to the $3.00 per bushel than the $2.00 per bushel mark for an extended period.

The good news, they write, is that prices may be more stable as corn production expands to meet ethanol requirements and new ethanol feedstocks and technologies emerge. Livestock and poultry producers also will have an incentive to increase use of the ethanol coproduct Distiller’s grains in order to control feed costs. This medium protein feed component can be used in place of corn in a substantial portion of the feed ration. As ethanol production expands, so will production of Distiller’s grains and thus putting downward pressure on prices.

Corn and energy prices both affect consumer food prices. However, since increases in corn prices are limited to a relatively small portion of the overall CPI for food, an increase in corn prices resulting from higher ethanol demand or a supply disruption such as a major drought is expected to have about half the impact of the same percentage increase in petroleum and energy prices.

Biofuels may increase the price of food. But high oil prices increase not only the price of food much more, they also drive inflation and push prices for all goods and services up. In some developing countries, governments are already forced to spend twice the amount of money on importing oil products than on health... In short, all economic and social sectors are impacted by oil.

Let us take an example of the importance of oil in our economy. The clothes we wear are made from cotton that is grown in West-Africa. There, farmers use machinery (harvesters, irrigation equipment) that is powered by liquid fuels. Once harvested, the cotton is transported (needs oil) to ports, where it is shipped (needs oil), to Bangladesh or China, 10,000 miles away. There, the raw product is transported to, and transformed in factories (both steps need oil), and then shipped again to markets in the wealthy West (needs oil). Here, we use our cars to go to shops to buy our clothes. With our new clothes, we go out to have diner, to eat food that was produced by relying on liquid fuels. In short, in all the many steps from production to consumption, oil is required - in countless agricultural, industrial, and service sectors.

And the worst is yet to come. Just imagine what would happen (to the poorest, energy intensive economies) when oil production reaches a peak and a barrel costs US$100 or more. That would be outright disastrous for the world economy.

So it is time major economic, energy and agriculture think tanks join forces to write a clear report showing the opportunity costs of biofuels - that is, the effects of high oil prices on agriculture, industry, and society as a whole. Such a report may well show that biofuels are actually beneficial to all of us (at least when they are produced from crops that make sense and when they are not subsidised).

Such a study would not even address the benefits of biofuels on long-term agricultural production. As is well known, climate change may reduce farm output in vast parts of the world, which would obviously impact food prices tremendously; biofuels are one of the most straightforward ways to mitigate climate change. So there too, the opportunity costs of biofuels should be analysed in the context of long term agricultural production.

More information:
John M. Urbanchuk, The Relative Impact of Corn and Energy Prices in the Grocery Aisle [*.pdf], June 14, 2007

The Renewable Fuels Association: Energy Prices, Not Corn, Chief Reason for Rising Food Prices, Study Finds - June 14, 2007.

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Brazil and Canada to cooperate on biofuels in Haiti

Canada and Brazil may join forces for the production of biofuels in Haiti, one of the top advisers of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said on Wednesday. Canada's Governor General Michaelle Jean, herself born in Haiti, was in Brazil on a seven-day official visit and discussed the matter during her meeting with Silva in this capital city, international affairs adviser Marco Aurelio Garcia told reporters.

Jean and Silva also discussed ways to strengthen already existing co-operation projects in the areas of health and reforestation that the two countries have implemented in Haiti. Years of mismanagement, political instability, and economic decline have led the hilly island state to the brink of environmental collapse. Haiti is plagued by degradation on an unprecedented scale, with virtually all forest gone, and with devastating floods, heavy soil erosion and declining agricultural yields as a result (a good overview of this dramatic situation can be found in Jared Diamond's book Collapse, part three of which has a chapter on the causes of Haiti's environmental disaster.)

Biofuel crops may help to restore the damaged landscape and provide alternatives to fuel wood, the gathering of which is destroying the last remnants of Haiti's forests. Perennial plants like sugarcane and jatropha are easy to establish, require relatively few inputs, and prevent erosion. They can be integrated in existing agricultural practises and make them more sustainable (earlier post on a French company that is trying to get a biofuels industry off the ground in Haiti). Small, decentralised biofuel industries are expected to boost incomes of small farmers and reduce the economically disastrous oil dependence of the island state.

Brazil and Canada are members of the Friends of Haiti, along with the United States, France and Britain, who work towards supporting development efforts in the troubled country. Biofuels are seen as one of the levers that may to contribute to poverty alleviation efforts. But Lula's main concern is with mitigating climate change and strengthening energy security.
We want to join forces in strategic sectors. Canada has large deposits of fossil fuels and Brazil is a world reference in terms of biofuels. This means we have a special responsibility in terms of climate change and energy security. - Brazilian president Lula da Silva
In her speech, Jean praised Silva's efforts to reduce poverty levels in Latin America's biggest country. The Social Fuel policy is one of these efforts, aimed at helping small family-run farms in the impoverished regions of Brazil to gain an income from producing biodiesel feedstocks (earlier post):
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Jean further focused on Lula's Zero Hunger program, that distributes monthly stipends to millions of impoverished Brazilians. The main requirement is that families pledge to keep their children in school.

The governor general reiterated Canada's desire to double trade with Brazil by 2012. Trade between the two countries hit about C$3.7 billion last year. Brazil is Canada's third largest export market in the Americas, and Jean called the country Canada's "most important trading partner in South America".

Earlier, the United States and Brazil pledged to help four poor nations in the Americas - the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti and St. Kitts - to produce biofuels. They would become the first beneficiaries of the recently signed U.S.-Brazil alternative-energy agreement, which aims to increase ethanol production in the region, as a way to stimulate sustainable economic development.

Picture: Haïti's landscape. Once covered in lush tropical rainforest - as it can still be seen in the Dominican Republic, which is part of the same island of Hispaniola - it has now changed beyond recognition. Restoration efforts are underway, but local pressures on the environment are still very high, with Haïti's people stripping the last bits of forest for energy.

Governor General of Canada: Michaëlle Jean Speech on the Occasion of a State Visit to the Federative Republic of Brazil - July 11, 2007.

CTV: Canada and Brazil discuss production of biofuel - July 11, 2007.

Biopact: An in-depth look at Brazil's "Social Fuel Seal" - March 23, 2007

Biopact: Biodiesel in Haïti supporting sustainable agriculture - March 27, 2007

Biopact: Declaration of Panama: OAS to boost biofuels for development in Americas - June 07, 2007

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Mitsui Engineering to use zeolite membrane for ethanol dehydration

Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding Co. annouced it will use a zeolite membrane developed by Mitsui & Co. subsidiary Bussan Nanotech Research Institute Inc. (BNRI) in dehydration systems for bioethanol plants.

Dehydration systems are used in the production of ethanol to remove water from the output. The most common method of removing water involves adding heat, but this increases energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions.

The BNRI filter concentrates the ethanol by allowing only water to pass through the membrane, thereby helping to reduce process fuel consumption by around 10% compared to other methods. Mitsui and Mitsui Engineering will sell the systems in major ethanol producing countries such as Brazil and the US.

Zeolites materials used as absorbents, catalysts or ion exchangers. However, the large-scale production of zeolite membranes without defects had proven elusive, according to BNRI. BNRI now claims to have developed such zeolite membranes:
:: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The membrane consists of a 3-D mesh-like structure where silicon oxide and aluminum oxide covalently share oxygen atoms. Its mesh “eyes” stack regular array of tiny pores in 3-D space. Those pores form channels at 0.4 to 0.8 nm width.

The membrane is supported on a ceramic tube. Water from the water-ethanol mix passes through the filter and into the tube. The ethanol flows out through a separate channel (schematic, click to enlarge).

Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding Co. is active the ethanol sector in South East Asia and Brazil. Interestingly, it earlier announced to be studying the use of cellulosic waste from oil palm plantations for the production of ethanol (previous post).

Bussan Nanotech Research Institute Inc.: "Characterization of zeolite NaA membrane by FTIR-ATR and its application to the rapid evaluation of dehydration performance" [*.pdf], Analytical Sciences, Vol. 21, pp.321-325 (2005).

Bussan Nanotech Research Institute Inc.: "Evaluation of the dehydration performance of zeolite NaA membrane on porous alumina tube by the alumina X-ray diffraction intensity" [*.pdf], Analytical Sciences, Vol. 22, pp.317-319 (2006).

Bussan Nanotech Research Institute Inc.: "Transmission electron microscopy observation on fine structure of zeolite NaA membrane", Chemistry of Materials, Vol.18, pp.922-927 (2006).

Bussan Nanotech Research Institute Inc.: "Grazing incidence X-ray diffraction analysis of zeolite NaA membranes on porous alumina tubes", Analytical Sciences, Vol. 22, pp.961-964 (2006).

Bussan Nanotech Research Institute Inc.Characterization of tubular zeolite NaA membranes prepared from clear solutions by FTIR-ATR, GIXRD and FIB-TEM-SEM [*.pdf], Journal of Membrane Science, Vol.296/1-2, pp.162-170 (2007).

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NREL: Brazilian ethanol does not harm the Amazon

U.S. energy officials speaking at the side-lines of an US-Brazil summit in Brasilia, clearly speak out against some common misconceptions and false information on biofuels produced in the South: Brazil's ethanol production is not devastating the Amazon rain forest or hiking food prices. And there is a large potential to expand, without impacting either food or fiber supplies or forests. Dan Arvizu, director of the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL):
There is a huge misconception internationally that in Brazil, we're cutting down the rain forest to (make) fuels, which is not true. Done responsibly (ethanol production) does not have to (compete) with food or impact the environment
Cultivating sugar cane in the rain forest's tropical climate makes no business sense, says Gregory Manuel, International Energy Coordinator at the U.S. State Department:
Economics don't drive ethanol production in the rain forest. Yield rates in very wet environments are roughly half that in temperate environments.
Importantly, in Arvizu's assessment:
We think at least 25-30 percent of current (global) gasoline consumption could be replaced by biofuels using today's technologies without impacting food or fiber.
By the time such a large quantity is reached, second-generation conversion technologies will probably be in place allowing for a bigger share - one that remains fundamentally sustainable.

All this is of course not new. According to leading scientists who work for the International Energy Agency sugar cane based ethanol is largely environmentally sustainable (earlier post and here). The crop grows 1000 miles South of the Amazon. The scientific community knows that this is true for a whole range of other tropical and subtropical sugar and starch crops that explicitly do not grow in rainforest environments: from cassava and sorghum, to jatropha or sweet potatoes.

So why are these misconceptions still around? They are being pushed by powerful lobbies who want to protect their own interests, against biofuels produced in the South:
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The 'President of the Poor', Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, recently concluded his historic mission in Europe, where he convinced the Union of the fact that biofuels production in the South can be both sustainable and benefit the poor.

At the landmark International Conference on Biofuels, the European Union finally showed support for this vision, and signalled its intentions to import biofuels from the developing world. This idea of a global 'biopact' is what we have been working towards too. It holds the promise of a win-win strategy: biofuel production in the South can become a lever for large scale poverty alleviation, the fuels in question reduce greenhouse gases far more than those made in the temperate climes of the North, and consumers in the West will pay far less for biofuels.

EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson signalled that he will not support biofuels in Europe as a way to subsidize wealthy farmers there. And the Swedish Trade Minister, Sven Tolgfors even went so far as to call for the removal of all trade barriers for imported biofuels. Indeed, Lula's work in Europe has resulted in a radical change in thinking, away from 'resource nationalism' to a vision of global solidarity, that puts biofuels on the agenda as a tool for a more equitable form of economic development.

An alliance of lobbies was not pleased to hear this vision being presented and has launched a viscious campaign to discredit biofuels from the South.

(1) Not surprisingly, European farmers and biofuel producers were furious after the Conference. They fear their huge subsidies and the protectionist barriers that make it possible for them to grow fuels, will be removed.

(2) Likewise, segments of the petroleum lobby try to discredit biofuels from the South because they pose a real threat to their business. Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America alone can produce more biofuels than all of OPEC's output (earlier post).

(3) Strangely enough, some environmentalists and NGOs are siding with oil lobby and the subsidised EU farmers. These NGOs fear biofuels produced in the South may damage the environment, - a fair concern. But they have been spreading some questionable and simplistic information that damages their case. If implemented incorrectly, green fuels can indeed have environmental consequences. But if done right and monitored by sustainability criteria, they offer a major chance to mitigate climate change and alleviate poverty.

Some NGOs make the strategic mistake of taking Brazil as an example of how these fuels pose a threat to environment, in particular the Amazon rain forest. Or they try to play the 'food versus fuel' card in a way that makes no scientific sense: biofuels per se do not increase food prices, high oil prices do and biofuels made from crops like corn. When biofuels are sourced from the South, where they are made at a third of the costs of EU/US fuels and from non-food crops, then biofuels make food even relatively cheaper (that's a no brainer, with oil at US$75 and ethanol at US$35 per barrel).

Brazil has done its best to respond to all the criticisms, and with factual information it has convinced some key players: the scientific community, most of the trade negotiators in Europe and the U.S., and NGOs who see biofuels as a chance for massive poverty alleviation in the South. We have done our bit to get the facts out too.

But when it comes to the Amazon rainforest, it seems like there needs to be some more convincing, because some lobbies keep pushing false information and abuse this powerful symbol of biodiversity to protect their own interests (the lobbies do so at the risk of becoming irrelevant in the debate).

The simple fact is that sugarcane, from which ethanol is made in Brazil, does not grow in the Amazon.

It does not grow there for agro-technical reasons. It makes no agronomic, economic or technical sense to grow it there. The crop was introduced 450 years ago by the Portuguese, and since then, there have been no intrusions into the rainforest. In fact, sugarcane grows 1000 miles South of the forest (map, click to enlarge). There is neither a direct, nor an indirect land-use change pressure coming from the cane.

In Europe and the United States biofuel production costs far more than in Brazil and is highly subsidized. Fuels produced there would not survive in a liberalised biofuels market. The wealthy subsidised farmers know this, and want to protect their business against less costly imported biofuels. For this reason, they try to discredit tropical biofuels.

In Brasilia, the NREL chief said production growth must be monitored carefully to avoid unwanted consequences. But he added that the current global market for ethanol was still far from what could be produced sustainably.

And indeed, at the International Conference on Biofuels, it was largely agreed that sustainability criteria have to be developed for internationally traded biofuels. But such criteria should be based on facts, and not on the wishes of the oil, environmentalist, or European biofuel lobbies.

When the anti-biofuel lobbies like the oil industry and the NGOs, or the Euro-American biofuel producers who fear imports, keep spreading false information, they risk making themselves irrelevant in the sustainability debate on green fuels.

Reuters: U.S. officials: Brazil ethanol doesn't harm Amazon - July 11, 2007.

Biopact: Brazilian ethanol is sustainable and has a very positive energy balance - IEA report - October 08, 2006

Biopact: Nature sets the record straight on Brazilian ethanol - December 09, 2006

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Synthetic Genomics and Asiatic Centre for Genome Technology to sequence oil palm genome

In a very important development, Synthetic Genomics, a privately-held company dedicated to commercializing synthetic genomic processes and naturally occurring processes for alternative energy solutions, and the Asiatic Centre for Genome Technology Sdn Bhd (ACGT), a center that focuses on the application of genome technology to improve oil palm and other crops, today announced a multi-year, research and development joint venture to sequence and analyze the oil palm genome.

ACGT is a wholly owned subsidiary of Asiatic Development Berhad, an oil palm plantation company listed on Bursa Malaysia (Malaysian Stock Exchange) and a member of Genting Group. The research should enable improved yields and lessen the environmental impact of oil palm.

Synthetic Genomics was founded by J. Craig Venter who is also the company's CEO. Venter was one of the driving forces behind the sequencing of the human genome. His newest and controversial research projects involve the creation of synthetic organisms (earlier post).

The first phase of the agreement between Synthetic Genomics and ACGT focuses on the African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis). Synthetic Genomics will conduct in-depth genomic analyses of the oil palm genome which should result in the first full analysis of the crop's genome. In subsequent studies the groups will also analyze the oil palm’s root and leaf microbial communities, to identify biomarkers and metabolic pathways that affect the plant's growth and viability.
Increasing global demand for non-renewable fossil fuels is contributing to climate change and unsustainable development. Biofuels derived from oilseed plants by using genomic tools are a promising alternative that could alleviate our reliance on fossil fuels if they can be used in an environmentally sound way. We look forward to working with ACGT to advance the use of these energy crops. - J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Synthetic Genomics.
Oil palm is the most productive oilseed crop and is used in a wide variety of ways worldwide including in food and for biofuels. However, oil palm’s promise as a clean energy source has not yet been fully realized. Synthetic Genomics and ACGT believe that by understanding the oil palm’s genome, the groups can enable palm oil to be a better source of renewable fuel by breeding plants with useful traits.

These include:
  • traits that enable the plant to be grown in more arid locations
  • the development of plants with high oil yield
  • the design of plants with a low height increment (dwarf varieties) which make harvesting easier
The announcement to sequence the oil palm's genome comes at a time that other tropical energy crops are being sequenced. Recently, the U.S. Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute launched an international effort to sequence the eucalyptus tree (earlier post). Cassava is being mapped by Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution (here), sorghums are under the scanner of U.S. universities (previous post and here), whereas sugarcane's genome - the most complex genome of all crops - was largely mapped by Brazilian researchers in 2003:
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The African oil palm is an extremely productive crop: it may yield up to 4500 liters of palm and palm kernel oil per hectare. In 2003 new hybrids were developed that mature earlier and that may yield 6000 liters. This new round of fundamental genetic research may result in similarly high or even better yields.

Improved cultivars are important because they allow plantations with a low productivity to be replanted, which improves production without taking up new land. However, on an estate level, replanting decisions are highly complex, whereas it is often difficult to convince smallholders to replant. Especially in Africa, the potential to replant is very high, as there are large badly maintained plantations with old and low-yielding trees there.

Besides oil, palm trees produce more useful biomass than any other crop. Currently, residues such as empty fruit bunches, leaves, fronds, fibers, trunks and press cakes are not yet used for the production of biofuels or bioenergy, but as a cellulosic feedstock, they represent an enormous potential for second-generation biofuels (graph, click to enlarge).

Synthetic Genomics and ACGT will also develop diagnostic tests for plant diseases that enhance natural resistance mechanisms for the breeding and maintenance of disease resistant energy crops. The resulting genomic solutions will help address the ecological concerns on biodiversity destruction through more efficient use of land with higher agricultural yield as well as sustainable development with improved stewardship of the plantation environment.

ACGT and its parent company’s chairman and chief executive, Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay, made equity investments in Synthetic Genomics as part of the deal. Financial details were not disclosed.
We are eager to work with Synthetic Genomics as it opens up a new horizon in oil palm research which will result in unprecedented understanding of the oil palm and its surroundings and we are confident it will significantly increase oil palm’s productivity and competitive advantage. Our partnership consists of a world class scientific team with expertise in molecular biology, metagenomics, metabolic engineering, chemistry, plant science and agronomy who can greatly improve the selection and breeding of oil palm. - Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay, Chief Executive of Asiatic.
Synthetic Genomics Inc., a privately-held company founded in 2005 and located in Rockville, Maryland and La Jolla, California, is dedicated to developing and commercializing synthetic genomic processes and naturally occurring processes for the production of clean, renewable alternative energy solutions. Recent advances in the field of synthetic genomics present seemingly limitless applications that could revolutionize production of energy, chemicals and pharmaceuticals and enable carbon sequestration and environmental remediation.

Asiatic Development Berhad, a 55%-owned subsidiary of Genting Berhad, commenced its operations in 1980 as the plantation arm of the Genting Group. Over the years, the Asiatic Group had embarked on several significant acquisitions in Malaysia, thus increasing its land bank from a mere 13,700 hectares in 1980 to nearly 66,000 hectares currently. In line with its long term strategy, the Asiatic Group had, in June 2005, further expanded its operations to Indonesia, on a joint venture basis, to develop some 98,300 hectares. The Asiatic Group also owns 5 oil mills with a total milling capacity of 235 tonnes per hour and is reputed to be one of the lowest cost palm oil producers with fresh fruit bunches production of over one million tonnes.

Handbook of Energy Crops: Elaeis guineensis Jacq.

Biopact: And the world's most productive ethanol crop is... oil palm - June 21, 2006

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

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Japanese company to invest US$1 billion in Bangladesh biofuels and sugar sector

According to EnergyBangla, Japanese industrial giant Honda Denki Co. Ltd has expressed its interest to invest up to US$1 billion in Bangladesh's green power, biofuels and sugar sectors.

The investment offer came when the president of the Japanese firm Shin-ichi Honda met Bangladesh Industries Advisor Geetiara Safiya Chowdhury in the capital, Dhaka on Sunday. Bioethanol project manager Dr. Salem Monem was present on the occasion, an official statement says.

During the meeting, Shin-ichi said his company wants to invest in power generation and environment-friendly alternative energy bioethanol projects. He said his firm is also interested in providing pure drinking water to the poor and financing housing projects.

Shin-ichi informed the advisor that the Japanese industrial giant is also keen to extend its cooperation to the country's sugar mills. It would help in boosting production through providing training to the farmers, distributing high-yielding seeds and offering modern technologies for bioenergy production.

Together with Brazil, the Caribbean and Central Africa (DRCongo), Bangladesh belongs to the world's most suitable areas for growing sugarcane. Soils, temperatures, sunlight, precipitation levels and other agro-ecological factors combine in set of highly suitable conditions.

According to the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and the FAO, following the Global Agro-Ecological Zones method, out of Bangladesh's 14 million hectares of land, some 10.1 million are very suitable, suitable and moderately suitable for sugarcane under rainfed cropping with high inputs (see map, and check the FAO's Land Suitability Maps).

In 2005, Bangladesh produced some 6.7 million tonnes of cane sugar, harvested from 175,000 hectares of land:
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Commenting on the Japanese announcement, the Bangladeshi advisor said the ethanol investments could play an important role in developing sugar industries. Describing the investment proposal of the Japanese firm in sugar industry as a very positive one, the advisor urged Honda to set up urea fertilizer industries in Bangladesh.

The Honda Denki has a large investment portfolio in sugar cane ethanol industries and power generation in Cambodia, Brazil and Venezuela.

GAEZ database: datasets on land suitability for different crops under rainfed conditions (datasets are *.xls format).

FAO, Land and Water Development Division: Land Suitability Maps for Rainfed Cropping, database.

Sugarcane production data for Bangladesh can be found in the FAOStat database.

EnergyBangla: Japanese Company Honda to Invest $1b in Power Sector of Bangladesh - July 9, 2007.

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Global warring: study suggests climate change could be the root of armed conflicts

Climate change, and the resulting shortage of ecological resources, could be to blame for armed conflicts in the future, according to David Zhang from the University of Hong Kong and colleagues. Their research [*abstract], which highlights how temperature fluctuations and reduced agricultural production explain warfare frequency in eastern China in the past, has been published online in the journal Human Ecology.

Zhang and his team looked at the impact of climate change on warfare frequency over the last millennium in eastern China. The agricultural production in the region supports the majority of the Chinese population. The authors reviewed warfare data from 899 wars in eastern China between 1000 and 1911, documented in the Tabulation of Wars in Ancient China. They cross-referenced these data with Northern Hemispheric climate series temperature data for the same period.

They found that warfare frequency in eastern China, and the southern part in particular, significantly correlated with temperature oscillations. Almost all peaks of warfare and dynastic changes coincided with cold phases:
Strong and significant correlations were found between climatic change, war occurrence, harvest level, population size and dynastic transition. During cold phases, China suffered more often from frequent wars, population decline and dynastic changes. The quantitative analyses suggested that the reduction of thermal energy input during a cold phase would lower the land carrying capacity in the traditional agrarian society, and the population size, with significant accretions accrued in the previous warm phase, could not be sustained by the shrinking resource base.
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Temperature fluctuations directly impact agriculture and horticulture and, in societies with limited technology such as pre-industrial China, cooling temperatures hugely impact the availability of crops and herds. In times of such ecological stress, warfare could be the ultimate means of redistributing resources, according to Zhang and his team.

The authors conclude that “it was the oscillations of agricultural production brought by long-term climate change that drove China’s historical war-peace cycles.” They recommend that researchers consider climate change part of the equation when they consider the reasons behind wars in our history.

Looking to the future and applying their findings, Zhang and colleagues suggest that shortages of essential resources, such as fresh water, agricultural land, energy sources and minerals may trigger more armed conflicts among human societies.

Zhang DD, Zhang J, Lee HF, He Y (2007), "Climate change and war frequency in eastern China over the last millennium", Human Ecology, Volume 35, Number 4 / August, 2007, Pages 403-414, DOI: 10.1007/s10745-007-9115-8

Springer Science and Business media: Global warring - July 9, 2007.

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Ethanol tariffs and subsidies force Italians to spend more on pasta

From Italy comes an interesting case study showing the need for countries in the North to import biofuels from the South. Italian food manufacturers have warned that the price of pasta, one of the country's staple foods, will go up by about 20% in the coming months. Global warming and the growing use of durum wheat as a biofuel feedstock are blamed. But the deeper reason lies with European and American tariffs on imported ethanol, which allow durum wheat to be used as a raw material for ethanol in the first place.

Italian pasta tastes good because it is made from durum wheat, of which Italy is one of the world's main producers. But with strong demand at home and a growing export market, Italians are increasingly forced to import high quality durum wheat from abroad.

Much comes from Canada and Syria but, according to Mario Rummo, president of the Italian pasta manufacturers association, the Canadians have said they have no more durum wheat for sale until November, because much of it has been sold for the production of ethanol. Syria, meanwhile, has just banned the export of grain. The result will be a price hike of 20% for spaghetti and fettuccine by the autumn for Italians who have long been accustomed to cheap pasta in their supermarkets.

Don't blame biofuels, blame your trade negotiator
Mainstream media now paint this story with headlines such as 'Italians face tough choice: spaghetti or ethanol', 'Spaghetti is the latest victim of the biofuels boom' or 'Cheap biofuels, or dear pasta?', perpetuating the food versus fuel myth. Notice the 'or', as if we are faced with a choice between food 'or' fuel. We all know, of course, that we can have both food and biofuels (earlier post).

If the EU and the US were to drop their high import tariffs on ethanol, the problem would solve itself at once.

Brazil and other countries in the South would compete durum wheat - which makes for a very mediocre bioethanol feedstock - out of the market swiftly, by selling their much more efficient and competitive sugar cane ethanol. The Swedish government has understood this, and has launched an offensive to get rid of tariffs and subsidies that keep European consumers paying way too much for biofuels, and that perpetuates this false dilemma between food and fuel.

It's simply absurd to see that durum wheat is being used to make ethanol, while there are alternatives that are many times more energy efficient and environmentally friendly. The energy balance of durum wheat based ethanol is below 2 to 1, and the fuel obtained from it doesn't reduce greenhouse gases very much. Moreover, durum based ethanol is costly, and only possible with hefty subsidies and protectionist trade barriers.

Sugar cane ethanol's energy balance is between 8 to 1 and 10 to 1, competitive without subsidies and reduces greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80%. Clearly, there is no match.

In short, headlines should read: 'EU tariffs force Italians to spend more on spaghetti' or 'Arrivederci, farm subsidies', 'European consumers hijacked by unfair trade rules which make both food and fuel more expensive, and which keep millions of poor farmers in eternal poverty' or 'Don't blame biofuels, blame your trade negotiator':
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Canadian production of durum wheat has soared in recent years, but it is increasingly being sold as a biofuel to make ethanol which is why the wholesale price is going up. Global warming appears to be one of the main reasons for a decline in production in some traditional durum wheat-growing areas in the Mediterranean.

At present, Italy imports 40% of the durum wheat used to make pasta.

The country's expertise in the selection and blending of grains is the reason pasta manufacturers here give for the superiority of their product and their flourishing export trade.

: durum wheat, a crop that can only be used as an ethanol feedstock if it enjoys heavy subsidies and is protected by ethanol import tariffs. From a purely technical and environmental standpoint, durum wheat makes no sense as an ethanol crop: the energy balance of the fuel obtained from it is too low, and it doesn't reduce greenhouse gas emissions in any significant way.

BBC: Italians facing pasta price rise - July 10, 2007.

Gristmill: Cheap biofuels, or dear spaghetti? - July 10, 2007.

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U.S. farm bill draft allows and subsidizes sugar as ethanol feedstock

In the U.S. ethanol is primarily made from corn because both cane and beet sugar are treated by law solely as food. But under a new 111-page proposal by the House Agriculture Committee aimed at updating U.S. crop subsidies, American growers would now be allowed to sell cane and beet sugar for use in making ethanol. This is a signal change for the program that treated sugar as a commodity for human consumption only.

The package of support measures included in the Commodity Programs [*.pdf] was written at the direction of House Agriculture Committee chairman Collin Peterson, and is scheduled for committee debate next week.

Support rates for sugar would rise under the proposal to 18.5 cents per lb of raw cane sugar and 23.5 cents per lb of beet sugar for each of the 2008 through 2012 crop years (Section 156, Sugar Program, a and b). They now are 18 cents per lb for cane and 22.9 cents a lb for beet sugar.

By law, the government must run the sugar program at no net cost. The program relies on domestic marketing allotments, when needed, to balance the supply of domestic and imported sugar with U.S. consumption. Tariff-rate quotas control imports.

Under the Agriculture Committee text, the Agriculture Department would set marketing allotments "for domestic human consumption" of sugar for the 2008-12 crop years. Sugar sold "for uses other than domestic human consumption" would be excluded from the limits.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) would continue to update periodically its estimates of U.S. production, imports and demand so adjustments could be made as needed in the marketing allotments. By August 1 of each year, the USDA would make its first estimate of sugar supply and demand.

One provision of the proposed sugar program said if the USDA awards surplus sugar as a reward to growers who agree to reduce production of sugarcane and beets that are already planted, the sugar from those fields can only be used as a bioenergy feedstock (see (f) Avoiding forfeitures; corporation inventory disposition - (2) Inventory disposition (B) Bioenergy feedstock):
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A related measure would allow USDA to purchase raw, refined or in-process sugar from growers and sell it to bioenergy producers if it would help the sugar program operate at no net cost. The provision is part of a "wish list" of projects that may be added to the new farm law.

The purchases would be made only when necessary and USDA would use competitive bidding to get the best prices.

The American Sugar Alliance, a trade group for growers, says the committee proposal would make the sugar program "even stronger" with its "long overdue loan rate increase" and the ethanol provision.

U.S. House Committee on Agriculture: 2007 Farm Bill Discussion Draft: Title I: Commodity Programs [*.pdf] - Updated July 10, 2007.

Reuters: U.S. House draft allows sugar as ethanol feedstock - July 9, 2007.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

An in-depth look at biorefinery concepts

The executive committee of IEA Bioenergy recently held its 59th meeting where it discussed the concept of the integrated biorefinery. Twelve leading experts presented case-studies and analyses on the barriers and opportunities ahead for such efficient factories that will drive the nascent bioeconomy. IEA Bioenergy is an international collaboration in which national experts from research, government, and industry from the IEA's Member Countries pool R&D in the area of bioenergy and formulate strategies on how to foster the deployment of bioenergy worldwide.

Put in simple terms, the concept of the biorefinery is based on converting series of renewable biomass streams via biochemical and thermochemical conversion pathways into an optimal range of products: biofuels, power and heat, biomaterials and green platform and bulk chemicals. All this must be achieved in as efficient a manner as possible by integrating conversion processes. In this sense, biorefining is analogous to the operations at refineries in the petrochemical industry.

The first session at the excom meeting provided an overview of the strategies that various countries are using to accelerate the commercialisation of the biorefinery concept, with a main focus on biochemical conversion. In a second session, thermochemical conversion technologies, 'Integrated Biomass Utilisation Systems' (IBUS), and Integrated Cereal Production were discussed. In a next gathering, the experts looked at strategies aimed at making use of entire plants and byproducts, also called 'bio-cascading'. The final session was entirely devoted to Iogen's experience and to the U.S. Department of Energy's activities at its Golden Field Office. What follows are some highlights from these presentations, which allow for a deeper understanding of the challenges ahead for the establishment of biorefineries.

Paths to commercialisation
In his presentation titled Biorefinery, the Bridge Between Agriculture and Chemistry Ed de Jong of the Wageningen University and Research Centre (WUR) in the Netherlands sketched the relationship between agricultural feedstocks for a bio-based chemical industry.

The major bridge between agriculture and chemistry is different in every country. For example, in the USA, security of the supply of feedstocks for the agriculture and chemical industries is the most important issue. Without reliable feedstocks, the chemical industry cannot depend on biomass as a major feedstock in chemical processing. Other countries have made efforts to ensure that finished products are produced by biomass feedstocks. In Holland, a number of task forces have been established to increase development of bioenergy, specifically 30% from biomass by 2030. In addressing these issues, many countries realise the importance of supply chains and co-production of alternative products through biomass:
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The contribution to farmers from the supply chain is also important because producing and selling biomass needs to be economically feasible for farmers. A combination of different products from both the farmer and the chemical industry will increase potential revenue and provide stronger incentives. The importance of co-products is exemplified in a pilot plant established in northern Holland ten years ago, which converted grass into products with multiple applications.

There is renewed interest from the chemical industry in the pulp and paper industry because of rising prices of traditional feedstocks, and pulp and paper waste streams are now a more economically feasible feedstock. Chemicals can be made from biomass without major inputs. When converting biomass-to-ethanol, the by-products produced are almost equal in value to the ethanol produced. Ethanol can be easily transformed into a chemical and can develop other materials, increasing the attractiveness of the chemical.

There are advantages of small-scale processing, such as harvesting in the fields with lower transport costs and reduced water. The disadvantages are that economies of scale in small-scale processing prevent profits for biological processes. A major need is to lower raw material costs and have better refinery separation technologies and downstream processes.

Interestingly, as an example of small-scale and decentralised biorefineries, de Jong pointed at mobile cassava starch processing plants that are under development. Such mobile factories may provide a starting point for the creation of future small biorefineries in the developing world.

The integrated biorefinery increases the value chain of individual biomass components as well as co-products produced. The biorefinery bridges the gap between agriculture and the chemical industries by providing a stream for biomass feedstocks and producing a menu of finished chemical products. When these products are produced from non fossil-fuelled feedstock, they also strategically achieve country goals of renewable energy production.

In Commercialising Biorefineries: The Path Forward, Larry Russo of the U.S. Department of Energy started out by providing an overview of America's R&D activities that will bring commercially viable biorefineries to the market.

This presentation covered the multi-faceted strategy and timeframe based on analysis, a presidential initiative, and the drive to reduce dependence on foreign oil.

In April 2005, the US Department of Energy (DOE) published the study entitled 'Biomass as Feedstock for Bioenergy and Bio Products Industry: The Technical Feasibility of a Billion Ton Annual Supply'. This report indicated that USA has the potential to displace 30% of current USA petroleum consumption using a variety of biomass feedstocks such as corn stover, wheat straw, and switch grass. This analysis provided the foundation for DOE to pursue a strategy that examines multiple biomass feedstocks.

USA biomass R&D effort was further shaped by the announcement of the Presidential Biofuels Initiative. This initiative set the goal in 2004 to achieve biofuels production to displace 30% of the nation’s gasoline use by 2030. This presidential goal is in response to the need for a domestic fuel source to reduce USA dependence on foreign oil. To achieve this goal, USA structured its government-funded research portfolio along five pathways:
  1. Feedstock R&D
  2. Biochemical R&D
  3. Thermochemical R&D
  4. Products R&D
  5. Balance of Plant
Through this multiple-pathway approach, USA will deploy integrated biorefineries throughout the country to meet the President’s goal.

In the effort to commercialise the biorefinery concept, DOE considers its critical role to be the mitigation of risk associated with the commercialisation of emerging technologies. At present there is significant private investment in biofuels development, although early failures in R&D efforts could jeopardise further investment. Therefore, DOE plans to provide 80 to 100% of the funds needed for basic R&D and technology development.

As the technologies mature and the projects demonstrate proof-of-concept and commercial viability, the government share of the funding is reduced and more of the financial burden is shifted to the commercial sector. This is the case with US DOE 932 solicitation, which aims to provide loan guarantees for the development of commercial biorefineries. These loan guarantees mitigate the financial burden on lending institutions because the USA government is held responsible should the recipient default on the loan.

Although a major portion of USA policy aimed at reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil is centred on biofuels, USA recognises the need for a balanced approach to achieving its goal. USA has begun to examine the need for more flexible fuel vehicles and improvements in the fuelling infrastructure. DOE also is pursuing efforts to improve the efficiency of automobiles for petroleum combustion, as well as the miles-per-gallon that can be achieved with ethanol fuels. USA believes that the goal of reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil can be achieved most readily through these efforts to develop biorefineries while also improving vehicle fuel efficiencies and the fuelling infrastructure.

Bob Wooley, of the United States National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) spoke about Insuring Success through Stage Gate and Beyond. The 'Stage Gate Process' that the DOE is using to track the progress of the projects within its R&D portfolio was the main focus of the presentation.

This Stage Gate process enables the evaluation of a project’s performance in bringing science and technology to commercial applications quicker, at lower costs, and with improved probability of success. This is accomplished by tracking the project from the beginning of the R&D stage. This process provides a framework for each project to go through a series of stage gate reviews before receiving support to progress to the next stage. Each stage begins with heavy government involvement and moves toward more industry involvement as a project progresses. In this process, commercialisation must be the end goal. The process is structured to incorporate steps such as exploratory research, development research, and technical support to address problems that will occur when moving to the commercialisation phase.

In the Stage Gate process, it is important to review previously completed work. During this review, it may be determined that a project should be stopped. The process may also determine whether there are incomplete parts and more work is needed, or whether a project could proceed to the next stage. The final assessment is critical to making sure that the best projects are being pursued.

The Stage Gate process is not a new concept. The Independent Project Analysis, Inc. (IPA), originated under the Rand Corporation in the 1970s, has used this process for a variety of research portfolios including evaluating the synfuels industry. IPA independently measures the performance of capital projects and the risk of possible unknown factors, determines what can be done to mitigate these issues, and predicts project success based on the research factors. It makes suggestions on how outcomes of commercial projects can be improved. DOE has enlisted the services of IPA to help implement the Stage Gate Process and manage the DOE biorefinery development projects, to ensure projects will be successful.

Finally, the first session saw Dan Schell, also of the NREL, discussing ways of Proving Biochemical Technologies at the Pilot-scale for Integrated Biorefinery Development.

Schell first outlined the different biomass conversion paths, with the biochemical route only being one of those. Thermochemical pathways consist of biomass gasification and pyrolysis. Different plant components require separate processing routes.

These different processes promise the production of a wide range of green and renewable bulk and platform chemicals, depending on which parts of plants are converted.

Schell then gave an overview of NREL’s pilot-scale biochemical biorefinery and how it is a critical tool in furthering the commercialisation of biorefinery technologies. This facility was constructed to generate critical information about the behaviour of the system for use in the design of larger commercial demonstration facilities.

NREL has found that pilot-scale plants are less expensive to build and operate when compared to commercial scale facilities. The rationale behind pilot plants is that they enables the laboratory to test the feasibility of proposed processes and implement process changes. It also enables the laboratory to research solutions to potential bottlenecks that can occur when implementing a new technology or process. This testing arrangement is much more cost effective than demonstrating these new technologies and processes at a commercial facility. Another benefit that the pilot-scale plant provides NREL is the ability to obtain data for design of a full-scale plant for variety of topical areas such as chemical reactions, mass and heat balances, material for construction, control strategies, and operating costs. The plant allows NREL to gather metrics associated with competing technologies in terms of cost and productivity, in order to provide the commercial sector with the data needed for more informed business decisions.

NREL is in the process of adding new capabilities to its pilot plant to enable it to handle a wider range of preterament chemistries. The laboratory is also adding new unit operations and expanding the instrument and control capabilities. These expansions will enable the lab to provide more useful information to the commercial sector and facilitate the deployment of more technologies into the marketplace.

Thermochemical conversion, process integration
Session two was entirely devoted to different thermochemical biomass conversion technologies and process integration.

One of the challenges facing biorefineries is to develop thermochemical technologies that are technically and economically feasible at the appropriate scale for reasonably available biomass resources. The goal of most biorefineries is to produce cost competitive biofuels at approximately US$1/gallon and to mix them with gasoline to meet industry, federal, and state specifications. To achieve this goal, biorefineries need to integrate bioethanol and electricity combined with heat to create processing efficiencies. Biorefinery production facilities have different phases: the demonstration plant, phase one (generation), and commercial plants. Second generation biorefineries are being set up in York, UK and Salamanca, Spain.

David Dayton, NREL, presented: Pilot-scale Thermochemical Technologies for Integrated Biorefinery Development - The Thermochemical Conversion Platform. In this presentation, Dayton explained that biorefineries utilise two main processes, biochemical and thermochemical, in converting raw biomass feedstocks such as wood chips into finished products such as ethanol.

A wide variety of lignocellulosic feedstocks is available even though the bulk will be obtained from forestry operations and wood waste. In line with the 'Billion Ton Study', several economic and technological scenarios for the thermochemical conversion of this woody biomass have been identified.

Thermochemical conversion utilises heat and pressure to convert carbon into finished products. Two main and different thermochemical conversion paths are gasification and pyrolysis. Dayton primarily discussed the gasification route, which results in a hydrogen an carbon monoxide 'syngas' which forms the basis for the transformation into different products.

There are several barriers for thermochemical conversion in biorefineries: analysis, conversion, gas clean-up and conditioning - identified as the barrier with the largest economic impact - , and integration of operations.

Multiple feedstocks necessitate multiple conversion processes, which complicate the process. Gasification of feedstocks is a complex function that needs to incorporate varying levels in the processing equipment. In addition, the waste streams make thermochemical processing more expensive because they must be addressed in order for the processing to be economical.

The improvement of the efficiencies of catalytic tar reforming into fuel ethanol was identified as one of the major processes that needs further advancements, as this step promises to bring considerable reductions in capital and operating costs.

At NREL, most of the work is focused on particulate removal and consolidating as many processes as possible. NREL’s recent focus on fuel synthesis is to produce biofuels from clean syngas. NREL can generate real syngas to test unit operations and study integration issues and catalyst performance issues. Once these technical challenges are addressed and the goals are achieved, major breakthroughs in biorefinery production will ensure that the capacity to produce finished products from renewable resources is available.

In Integrated Biomass Utilisation Systems: Best Basis for Biorefineries, Børge Holm Christensen of Inbicon A/S, Denmark, elaborated the concept of 'Integrated Biomass Utilisation Systems' (IBUS), which began by seeking alternatives for straw and ethanol, has proved to be a good concept.

The key activity of IBUS is the integrated utilisation of sugar/starch and lignocellulosic feedstocks. Most crops comprise both sugar or starch and lignocellulose. Lower cost processes use a single process and then separate the feedstock at the plant, enabling collection of more biomass within a given area and substantial process synergies.

In integrated production of bioethanol and electricity, a feedstock such as straw loses 55 to 65% of the input energy, and ethanol fermentation loses 3 to 5% of the input energy as heat. The huge loss of heat energy from the global electricity generation can be used to cover the demand for heat energy in future fuel ethanol production. The solution to these losses is co-production.

The IBUS system requires less energy and therefore has low energy costs. Use of low pressure steam from electricity generation means energy can be used without CO2 emissions. It can also recycle the by-products, does not have waste water, and does not emit volatile organic compounds. IBUS can use this pre-treatment process to enter various stages in the biorefinery.

The IBUS concept utilises the surplus steam to produce high-quality solid biofuel increases. The primary result of the EU project is the co-production of biofuels.

Abengoa Bioenergy, a leading biofuel & biorefinery developer and a subsidiary of Spanish group Abengoa, was represented by Quang Nguyen, who explained his company's vision on the Integration of Biomass and Cereal Ethanol Production. Abengoa is a technology company founded in Seville, Spain, and it operates in more than 40 countries. Its approach to biorefineries is to integrate starch-hybrid and biomass. It has strategic interests in producing fuels for future technologies such as hydrogen, and it considers ethanol production the basis for hydrogen fuels.

Its products and processes include: corn to milling to cooking to liquefaction to saccharification, and fermentation to distillation to product recovery. The company sees this as conversion technologies ('first generation') that will be further developed over the medium term.

For the longer term, Abengoa is currently working on the development of a thermochemical pathway for conversion of any carbonaceous feedstock to ethanol. Current projects include a biorefinery pilot plant in York, UK, sponsored by DOE, which converts 1.5 ton/day of biomass feedstocks from corn stover, wheat straw, and switch grass. Abengoa also has a biomass ethanol commercial demonstration plant in Salamanca, Spain, supported by the European Commission, which uses 70 tons/day wheat straw as a feedstock and produces 5 million L/y ethanol.

Abengoa has various gasification, catalyst development, and ethanol reforming projects. One such project is a hybrid starch and biomass commercial plant in a conceptual design phase. Its output will be 700 tons/day, integrated with a cereal ethanol plant.

Biomass conversion challenges for Abengoa and all biorefinery plants are that biomass feedstocks are complex, varying, and bulky; feedstock collection logistics are complex; and the cellulosic biomass feedstocks are more recalcitrant than starch.

Three presentations were held during the session on 'bio-cascading'. Bio-cascading - making use of whole plants and not just their easily extractable sugars or starches - will be crucial because biomass resources are limited. Just as petroleum refineries produce gasoline as their main product, but also produce many valuable co-products, so too does the integrated biorefinery attempt to utilise the entire feedstock stream to produce biofuels and valuable co-products.

One goal is to incorporate conversion R&D and demonstrate for adoption in an existing biorefinery facility. The technical challenge is to avoid hydrolysis degradation products and use fibres in corn ethanol products. It is important that by-products from biodiesel and the sugar industry are upgraded. There are also issues of transportation and more efficient processes, which could be overcome by using cheaper and more efficient feedstocks.

Michael Ladisch of the Purdue University in the U.S. co-repsented with Gary Welch of Aventine Renewable Energy on Incorporating Conversion R&D and Testing Adaptation in an Existing Facility. They started by saying that there is a strong motivation to incorporate R&D conversion technologies and adaptation testing in existing facilities in order to reduce the dependence on oil. Another driver is the presidential mandate to reduce USA dependence on oil through the President’s ‘Twenty in Ten’ goal. NREL is working with industry, federal and state government, and universities in a collaborative effort to achieve these goals.

Ethanol, used as fuel additive as well as a stand-alone product such as E85, will help achieve the goals to reduce dependence on oil. Corn to ethanol currently accounts for 13% of all ethanol in USA. However, corn is also needed for food (both domestic and exports) and animal feed, and using it for ethanol has an impact on food costs because it places higher demand on the corn, which in turns raises its price. The amount of corn available to produce ethanol is insufficient; that, and because of its other uses, is why cellulose is needed. Corn will continue to be important, but will only account for a fraction of the production.

Thomas Willke of the Federal Agricultural Research Centre Institute of Technology and Biosystems Engineering, Germany, looked at Upgrading of By-products from Biodiesel and Sugar Industry by Bioconversion and Chemical Catalysis. The presentation offers an overview of the Federal Agricultural Research Centre Institute of Technology and Biosystems Engineering. The Centre has identified several main barriers toward the integrated biorefinery. Biomass transport, pre-treatment, conversion, production, and energy costs are all barriers that must be addressed in order to upgrade by-products from the biodiesel and sugar industries through bioconversion and chemical catalysis.

Willke explained that many of the most important platform chemicals that can be obtained from biomass can be extracted from byproducts from both the biodiesel and ethanol industries.

When it comes to both the production of ethanol as well as the utilisation of its byproducts, reliance on immobilised cells has many advantages over traditional fermentation (based on yeast).

An example of the advantage of immobilisation for the extraction of green chemicals would be the production of palatinose (isomaltulose), a healthy sweetener used increasingly in the food processing industry. If ethanol production were to be based on immobilisation, production of this product could be easily integrated into the biorefinery.

Willke zoomed in on another cascading strategy in ethanol biorefineries that can be build around the production of itaconic acid from sugars, a compound used widely in the production of polymers. Esters of itaconic acid can be used in paint, ion-exchange resin, lubricant, binder, plasticizer, sealant and molding plastics. Some other itaconic acid derivatives are used in medicine, cosmetics, lubricant, thickener, herbcide and wool modifier.

Finally, as an example of cascading byproduct use from biodiesel production, attention was given to 1,3-Propanediol which can be obtained from glycerol (glycerine). Glycerol is the major biodiesel byproduct, for which many applications are being researched (earlier post, and links there). 1,3-Propanediol finds uses in a variety of industrial products including composites, adhesives, laminates, coatings, moldings, novel aliphatic polyesters, copolyesters, solvents, antifreeze and other end uses.

Some important steps for biorefineries to reduce costs are to combine pre-treatment, conservation, and separation, such as in sugar and starch refineries, Willke concluded. The major challenge is the potential for cost reduction in biorefineries such as in transportation efficiency, more efficient processes, and cheaper and more efficient feedstocks.

Finally, Prabhakar Nair, of U.S.-based UOP LLC, discussed how to Commercialise Thermochemical R&D and Pilot Plant Results. Biofuels have had an increasingly important role in global energy demand, with 12 to 15 percent annual growth, Nair says. There are two major bio-based transport fuels: ethanol and biodiesel. USA and Brazil are primary centres for ethanol production, and Europe is the primary centre of biodiesel production. The market today is driven by subsidies to make it competitive. If the proposed mandates set by USA and the EU are adopted, they will create an additional demand for about 3 million barrels per day of renewable transport fuels by 2020.

UOP is a supplier and licensor of processing technology, which was acquired by Honeywell in 2005. UOP can apply refinery processing technology to renewable feedstocks to help the major biorefining centres in the world.

UOP thinks the availability of cellulosic biomass waste and residue streams from agriculture, forestry and industrial sectors alone can make a significant impact on the fuels pool. The potential outlined above does not take into account dedicated biomass plantations. If all these waste streams were to be converted via thermochemical processes into fuels, an equivalent of around 38 million barrels per day could be obtained.

Nair outlined different possible thermochemical routes for the conversion of biomass into both diesel and gasoline alternatives, under which he included the traditional biodiesel production process known as transesterification. He did so in order to compare it with UOP's current 'green diesel' production, which is based on the hydrogenation of vegetable oils (earlier post and here).

At the same time however, UOP is researching next-generation processes. On of these is based on an intermediate step consisting of the pyrolysis of biomass into bio-oil (pyrolysis oil), which can be transformed via hydroprocessing into a both green diesel and gasoline. The pyrolysis based process would allow the use of abundant lignocellulosic feedstocks. However, compared to both crude oil and vegetable oils, this pyrolysis oil is not easy to transform.

An even later generation would consist of direct conversion of lignocellulosic biomass via hydrocracking. The difference between producing biofuels via the intermediary pyrolysis step and the direct conversion process and their respective products can be seen above. Direct conversion is currently in a research phase only.

UOP notes that the current biofuels market is based on sugars and oils alone and thinks long term sustainability will require the use of lignocellulosic feeds.

Biorefinery management processes, and Iogen
This final session of the IEA Bioenergy executive committee's meeting discussed the demonstration commercial plant funded by the U.S. DOE Biomass Programme with Iogen. The Iogen plant uses straw as feedstock and will demonstrate the cellulose ethanol making process.

Another presentation was on the Project Management Center, part of DOE’s Golden Field Office. This centre manages US$1.2 billion in R&D funding for a variety of energy efficiency and renewable energy projects including biomass projects. The presenter provided an overview of the role of this office in managing the DOE biomass projects.

James Spaeth, US Department of Energy, outlined how the DOE's Project Management Center puts in efforts aimed at Managing the Biofuels Portfolio. DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy has a dedicated field Project Management Center (PMC) at its Golden Field Office (GFO) in Colorado. The PMC function is to oversee laboratories and work with industry and academia to implement a portfolio of approximately US$1.2 billion annually, including biomass projects.

GFO uses common practices and business processes to manage projects and works from basic R&D to commercialisation. Its key functions are to implement directives from DOE headquarters into concrete solicitations and projects. GFO has the same structure as that of headquarters in that it runs solicitations and manages projects based on statements of work, including financials, technical and project milestones, and spend plans.

An important activity of GFO is working with DOE headquarters to enact sections of USA Energy Policy Act of 2005. GFO has played a major role in the selection and management of the activities conducted in the Implementation of Section 932, which calls for financial support to commercialise six biorefinery plants. In addition, GFO has begun to examine how to implement the 942 reverse auction. These efforts will jumpstart cellulosic ethanol production in USA.

The Iogen Story was presented by Maurice Hladik, of Iogen, Canada. Iogen is the well known producer of enzymes used to convert lignocellulosic biomass into ethanol and has been active in producing the biofuel since the 1970s. It has a variety of partners, including Shell and Goldman Sachs.

According to Iogen, crucial for the successful commercialisation of cellulosic ethanol refineries, is to know one's correct position in the complex landscape of players and policies, and to form partnerships and synergies between these players so that the entire industry becomes more efficient, on all fronts.

Iogen’s demonstration plant exclusively uses straw and is a successful example of an operating demonstration facility. The plant uses a cellulose ethanol process and integrates all key unit operations into one continuous process. Iogen’s enzymes are designed around the process, and the process is designed around the enzymes. The company believes that cellulose ethanol could displace more than 30% of the United States' present petroleum consumption.

Picture opening this article: The fermenter of Iogen's biorefinery in Ottowa, the world's first cellulosic biomass conversion facility. Courtesy: Iogen Corp.

All images are taken from the respective presentations.

IEA Bioenergy: The Biorefinery Concept - workshop held in conjunction with ExCo59 in Golden, USA on 25 April 2007.

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Of food and fuel: obesity rates keep rising in the US - by 2015, 75% of adults overweight, 41% obese

In the food versus fuel debate, some myths must be dispelled, such as the idea that there is somehow not enough food being produced for all people on the planet. Or that biofuels will threaten future food supplies. The fact is that there is an overabundance of extremely cheap food, but that it is badly distributed. It is well known that food insecurity is not the result of a lack of food (material scarcity), but of lack of access to food. 800 million poor people can't feed themselves because they don't earn enough income to buy food which is so abundant in this world (earlier post).

Our view, which has recently gained interest at the EU level, is that biofuel production by the world's 2 billion farmers in the South offers an opportunity to raise their incomes - the critical factor enabling the reducing of food insecurity. Studies on the potential of biofuels clearly show that we can feed the world's rapidly growing populations, and at the same time produce an abundance of bioenergy (earlier post). In the 20th century, world agriculture was aimed at securing sufficient production of food - a goal that was fully achieved (we currently produce food for 9 billion people). The 21st century must be aimed at distributing it in more equitable ways. Farm subsidies and trade barriers (to e.g. biofuels) in the wealthy West keep many developing countries in poverty and has turned them into net food importers, while these countries should in fact be major agricultural exporters (they have the agro-ecological potential). Infrastructural problems, lack of investment, political instability, bad governance and unfair socio-economic policies on the part of developing country governments are other key factors driving food insecurity and undernutrition in the South.

In the West, the overabundance of extremely cheap (subsidized) food is now so large that it has led to a health crisis of major proportions: the obesity pandemic. Speaking of distributing food in wrong ways, new research shows some staggering figures on how this global epidemic keeps expanding in the United States.

According to a just released meta-study [*abstract] carried out by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Human Nutrition, America's obesity prevalence increased from 13 percent to 32 percent between the 1960s and 2004. The prevalence of obesity and overweight has increased at an average rate of 0.3–0.8 percentage points across different sociodemographic groups over the past three decades. 66% of U.S. adults are currently overweight or obese (2003-2004). By 2015, 75 percent of adults and nearly 24 percent of U.S. children and adolescents will be overweight or obese. The meta-analysis was published online in advance of the 2007 issue of the journal Epidemiologic Reviews.
The obesity rate in the United States has increased at an alarming rate over the past three decades. We set out to estimate the average annual increase in prevalence as well as the variation between population groups to predict the future situation regarding obesity and overweight among U.S. adults and children. Obesity is a public health crisis. If the rate of obesity and overweight continues at this pace, by 2015, 75 percent of adults and nearly 24 percent of U.S. children and adolescents will be overweight or obese. - Youfa Wang, MD, PhD, lead author of the study and an assistant professor in the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of International Health
The obesity pandemic is no laughing matter, because here too, the problem is strongly correlated with the socio-economic status of people. Some minority and low socioeconomic status groups—such as non-Hispanic black women and children, Mexican-American women and children, low socioeconomic status black men and white women and children, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders—are disproportionately affected.

The study authors included 20 journal papers, reports and online data sets in their meta-analysis. In addition, data from four national surveys—NHANES, BRFSS, Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System and National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health—were included in order to examine the disparities in obesity. They defined adult overweight and obesity using body mass index cutoffs of 25 and 30, respectively. Children at risk for overweight and overweight were classified as being in the 85th and 95th percentiles of body mass index, respectively. The key findings include:
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  • 66% of U.S. adults were overweight or obese in 2003-2004.
  • Women 20–34 years old had the fastest increase rate of obesity and overweight.
  • 80% of black women aged 40 years or over are overweight; 50% are obese.
  • Asians have a lower obesity prevalence when compared to other ethnic groups. However, Asians born in the United States are four times more likely to be obese than their foreign-born counterparts.
  • Less educated people have a higher prevalence of obesity than their counterparts, with the exception of black women.
  • States in the southeast have higher prevalence than states on the West Coast, the Midwest and the Northeast.
  • 16% of children and adolescents are overweight and 34% are at risk of becoming overweight in 2003-2004.
  • White children and adolescents had the lowest prevalence of overweight and being at risk of overweight compared with their black and Mexican counterparts.
Our analysis showed patterns of obesity or overweight for various groups of Americans. All groups consistently increased in obesity or overweight prevalence, but the increase varied by group, making this public health issue complex. More research needs to be completed to look into the underlying causes. Obesity is likely to continue to increase, and if nothing is done, it will soon become the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. - May A. Beydoun, coauthor of the study and a postdoctoral fellow in the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of International Health.
In a related study, the Johns Hopkins co-authors published a research article in the May 7, 2007, issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition that found people purchase foods based on their income level and perception of a food’s health benefit and cost. Ethnicity, gender and environmental factors also impact people’s food choices.

Note: Unlike definitions for adults, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention uses “overweight” to refer to the highest body mass index for children and adolescents. Therefore, it is inaccurate to use the term “obese” when referring to elevated body mass index in this age group.

Youfa Wang and May A. Beydoun, “The Obesity Epidemic in the United States—Gender, Age, Socioeconomic, Racial/Ethnic and Geographic Characteristics: A Systematic Review and Meta-Regression Analysis” [*abstract], Advance Access published online on May 17, 2007, Epidemiologic Reviews, doi:10.1093/epirev/mxm007.

John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Obesity Rates Continue to Climb in the United States - July 10, 2007.

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Study of energy crops shows miscanthus twice as productive as switchgrass

At the annual meeting of the American Society of Plant Biologists in Chicago (July 7-11, 2007), scientists will present findings on how to economically and efficiently produce plant crops suitable for sustainable bioenergy. Improving the production of such biomass is important because it should significantly ease and eventually replace dependence on petroleum-based fuels.

Converting biomass into biofuels can be costly and slow. Two crops, both classified as C4 perennial grasses, have been studied extensively to determine how best to improve costs and production rates. Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), native to the North American prairies, has been trialed across the United States. Miscanthus (Miscanthus x giganteus), a tropical grass originating from Africa and South Asia, has been studied extensively throughout the European Union. Both show great promise, but until now, nobody has been sure which crop is more efficacious.

A new study completed by Frank Dohleman of the Plant Biology Department at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and his colleagues, is the first to compare the productivity of the two grasses in side-by-side field trials (picture, click to enlarge). Results from field trials throughout Illinois show that Miscanthus is more than twice as productive as switchgrass.

Dohleman's team, which included Dafu Wang, Andrew D.B. Leakey & Stephen P. Long also of University of Illinois, along with Emily A. Heaton of Ceres Inc., theorized that Miscanthus produces more usable biomass than switchgrass because of these three key attributes:
  1. Miscanthus can gain greater amounts of photosynthetic carbon per unit of leaf area
  2. Miscanthus has a greater leaf area
  3. Miscanthus has a longer growing season
The research team measured the amount of gas exchanged on the upper canopy of Miscanthus leaves from pre-dawn to post-dusk on 20 dates in the 2005 and 2006 growing seasons. The averages from two years' data showed that Miscanthus gained 33% more carbon than switchgrass:
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Integrated measurements also showed that the Miscanthus leaf area was 45% greater than switchgrass and that Miscanthus plants grew an average of eleven days longer than switchgrass. This extended growing season and accompanying lower temperatures proved to further boost the photosynthetic activity of Miscanthus. Specifically, pyruvate Pi dikinase was found to be expressed at higher rates when ambient temperatures are lower. This enzyme supports C4 photosynthesis in Miscanthus.

Unraveling the mystery of why Miscanthus is the more productive crop will enable researchers to engineer this and other potential bioenergy crops. These developments will increase production options as well as support efforts within biofuel research and industry to work with non-food based biomass resources.

Picture: Original experimental Miscanthus and Switchgrass fields in Urbana. Photo courtesy: Andrew Leakey, 2006.

Miscanthus Research at the University of Illinois

Pictures of the Miscanthus research at the University of Illinois.

Eurekalert: Illinois-based study of energy crops finds miscanthus more productive than switchgrass - July 10, 2007.

Biopact: West-Africa launches 'African Miscanthus Plantations' project - April 01, 2007

Biopact: UK scientists hunt for biomass grass types in Asia - March 13, 2007

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Germany's Nawaro Bioenergie builds world's largest biogas complex: 20 MW

German bioenergy company Nawaro Bioenergie AG is completing the world's largest integrated biogas power station in Klarsee, Penkun, in the German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.

The complex will generate 20 megawatts of electricity by fermenting energy maize by liquid manure. After fermentation the biomethane is converted by combustion into electricity and heat. The complex utilises 40 Jenbacher Gas Engines that will cogenerate 20 megawatts of electricity and 22 megawatts in thermal output. The 40 units were delivered by EnviTec which specialises in the standardisation of 500kW modules. The first module began operations in November 2006 and by now 15 modules are operating. The 20MW output is enough to meet the energy needs of a town of 50,000 people. The electricity generated at NAWARO is fed into the power grid, as agreed by utilities.

The Klarsee complex is located close to the German-Polish border, where around 50 to 60 agricultural enterprises and farmers from both countries deliver the feedstock. Approximately 300,000 tonnes of specially bred maize silage, 60,000 tonnes of manure and 20,000 tonnes of grain per year are required. Silage maize is particularly well suited as a renewable fuel for biogas as it contains more energy than most other feedstocks. Per hectare, conversion into biogas shows around twice the yields of conversion into liquid biofuels.

The carbon-neutral and self-contained cycle of raw material and energy is also a worldwide first: nearly all the fermentation residues produced are converted into high-quality depot fertiliser to be sold on the international market (schematic, click to enlarge). The vicinity of the Baltic Sea ports represents a reloading point for shipping out the fertilisers. This brings in an additional €50-150 per tonne of feedstock. All that is left after a processing cycle is clear water, making the power station’s total efficiency and environmental performance superior to that of conventional farm-based biogas plants.

Biogas is the least carbon-intensive of all renewable energies (previous post). In the long-term, the production of the biomethane can be integrated in carbon capture and storage (CCS) concepts, which would result in carbon-negative energy systems. Only bioenergy-based energy systems can acquire this status, and could thus radically help reducing global carbon dioxide emissions. Biogas is particularly interesting in this respect, because it offers the potential for low-cost carbon capture, by separating CO2 efficiently before the combustion of the gas (earlier post).

Behind the industrial-scale project in Klarsee stands the vision - now prevalent throughout Germany - that electricity from biogas can play an integral part of the energy market worldwide. Some projections show that the potential is so large that the EU could replace all natural gas imports from Russia with biogas, by 2020 (previous post). Upgraded and cleaned, biomethane can be fed into the existing natural gas infrastructure. Several projects in Germany are already doing this, and a large EU-funded study on feeding biomethane into NG pipelines is analysing the issue in-depth:
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The vision is backed up by numbers: German biogas units produced 2.9 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2005, or about three times as much electricity as the amount supplied by photovoltaic solar cells. The new plant promises to push biomass energy to new levels - using all of its standardized modules it will generate electricity with a total capacity of 20 megawatt. NAWARO has two other biogas parks of the same size are under development.

NAWARO’s financing is done by Doric Asset Finance, which set up the Geno Bioenergie 1 fund of around €100m for the Klarsee biogas park. Minimum investment was €10,000; the first distribution for investors is projected for November 2008 at 5.5% of the contribution, with further 9% payments per year from 2009 onwards.

Biogas is the fastest growing renewable energy sector in Europe, with electricity generated from biogas growing much more rapidly than the overall biomass, wind and solar sector in recent years. More than 2,500MW have been installed to date in Europe. Germany leads the field in electricity generation from biogas, with about 3,500 installed plants and a combined capacity of 1,100 MW. The German Biogas Association estimates that this capacity could grow up to 9,500MW by the year 2020.

Besides the potential to feed the green gas into the natural gas grid, it can also be used as a transport fuel in CNG vehicles.

Compiled from sources found at Nawaro Bioenergy, AG.

Nawaro Bioenergie AG, website.

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Texas launches Bioenergy Strategy

Texas Governor Rick Perry joined bioeconomy leaders to announce Texas’ Bioenergy Strategy, highlighting the state’s achievements in creating a balanced energy portfolio through developments in bioenergy and other energy resources. The governor also awarded a $5 million Texas Emerging Technology Fund grant to Texas A&M University for research and biofuel advancements.
As a state that grows by 1,000 new residents each day, Texas must take a more innovative approach to developing new methods and research in the field of energy. By intersecting three of our state’s largest industries – energy, agriculture and petrochemicals – researchers in Texas have made tremendous progress in developing bioenergy and fuel sources from such things as plant cells, compost and fertilizers. - Texas Governor Rick Perry
In 2004, Gov. Perry spearheaded efforts to build industry clusters comprised of leaders in six industry sectors economists forecasted to be future engines of economic development in the United States. One of the sectors, energy, sparked partnerships between the private sector, academia, and the state and federal government to research bioenergy and fuel opportunities in Texas. Today, scientists have developed unique avenues through use of natural materials to create environmentally clean and efficient energy sources. Bioenergy and fuel products are successfully competing with traditional manufacturing processes thanks to their ability to cut costs by using natural products, while promoting a greener and more eco-sensitive business.

During the last year, the bioenergy initiative evolved into a larger project focused on the broad realm of bioproducts. Advancements in such fields as biomaterials, biochemicals and biopharmaceuticals have ignited the creation of a bioeconomy in Texas:
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In a place like Texas that not only houses unique terrains and ecosystems unlike any other the world, but also has access to ports, international borders, and other venues for trade, we have a distinct opportunity to further develop and leverage more of our state’s resources to develop a variety of bioproducts. - Texas Governor Rick Perry
At the event, Gov. Perry awarded a $5 million Texas Emerging Technology grant to Texas A&M University to help recruit commercially-focused faculty to market innovative research for the next generation of biofuels. Texas A&M and Chevron are also partnering on research efforts to achieve accelerated harvesting of non-food crops for conversion into biofuel products.

The governor recognized the newly formed Texas Bioproducts Industry Council, which will work closely with the private and public sector to strategize the future of bioproducts in Texas. Ongoing research has the potential to promote Texas to a self-sufficient post for energy and fuel, while introducing global solutions to growing energy needs.

Office of the Governor: Gov. Perry Rolls Out Texas' Bioenergy Strategy - July 9, 2007.

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IEA forecasts world biofuel output to double from 2006 to 2012

The International Energy Agency (IEA) just released its Medium-Term Oil Market Report in which it forecast global biofuel output will double from 2006 levels to 1.75 million barrels a day in 2012. In the Market Reort, the agency, which is the energy security watchdog for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), included its second annual report on biofuels in.

The IEA projects increasing tightness in the market for petroleum and sees OPEC spare capacity decline to minimal levels by 2010. For the first time, the agency elaborates on the concept of 'Peak Oil'.

Biofuel outlook
The IEA raised its 2006 biofuel supply baseline by 79,000 barrels a day to 863,000 barrels a day due to stronger-than-expected growth and more detailed capture of projects. Still the agency warned while the forecasts showed a "considerable rate of growth" for global biofuel production they were significantly below capacity planned for 2012.

Technology for significant production of second generation biofuels based on lignocellulosic feedstocks isn't expected by the IEA to come into play by end of the 2012 outlook period.

The IEA projects an actual 2012 output of 1.75 million barrels a day to fall short of potential capacity of 2.92 million barrels a day. IEA forecasts 50% global biofuel supply growth between 2007 and 2009, mostly in the U.S. IEA projects daily U.S. biofuel production to grow from 330,000 barrels in 2006 to 533,000 barrels in 2009, but to then remain steady to 2012.
We anticipate that ethanol (about 78% of total biofuels on average) and biodiesel will displace altogether 1.1 mb/d of oil product demand in 2007, rising to almost 1.8 mb/d in 2012. Ethanol is expected to displace roughly 27% of incremental gasoline demand; by contrast, biodiesel will only displace about 5% of incremental gasoil demand. Despite its rapid growth, however, ethanol consumption will only account for about 6% of global gasoline demand by the end of the forecast period, while biodiesel use will represent even less (slightly more than 1%) as a proportion of global gasoil consumption. Overall, biofuels demand will be concentrated in OECD countries.
The agency said U.S. ethanol profit margins should further retreat over the next two years with the high price of corn. "Recent news reports have indicated that the U.S. is already experiencing a surplus of ethanol," the report said.

However due to Brazil's competitive advantage in production costs, agriculture and infrastructure, IEA expects supply growth to continue beyond 2009. Brazil's daily biofuel output is forecast to rise from 293,000 barrels in 2006 to 421,000 barrels in 2009 and 528,000 barrels in 2012.

The agency expects Europe to maintain its share of half the world's biodiesel production through 2012, approximately doubling biodiesel output from 2006 to 213,000 barrels a day from 2009. But starting in 2008, IEA looks for strong output growth in Europe's ethanol output:
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IEA forecasts Europe's overall daily biofuel output at 377,000 barrels by 2009, up from 150,000 barrels in 2006. However daily European output is seen steady from 2009-2012. The agency said it has the greatest doubts for proposed projects being realized in the Asia-Pacific region.

IEA projects only a third of 2012 proposed daily output capacity of 604,000 barrels will be produced. And about a third of this unrealized production will be in China, as enthusiasm for biofuels is tempered by awareness of growing food and water needs, IEA said.

IEA said while biofuels will still only account for 2% of global oil supplies by 2012, they will account for 13% of volume growth in gasoline and gasoil/diesel demand near-term. "This is causing investors to reevaluate the need for incremental refinery capacity," said IEA.

The IEA anticipates “increasing market tightness” beyond 2010 for oil, due to stronger demand and OPEC spare capacity declining to minimal levels by 2012.

The IEA forecasts that global oil product demand will expand by 1.9 mb/d or 2.2% per year on average, reaching 95.8 mb/d by 2012. Growth will be driven by the stronger oil demand growth in non-OECD countries, particularly in Asia and the Middle East, where demand will grow more than three times faster than that of the OECD economies. Transportation fuels will account for the bulk of demand growth in both OECD and non-OECD countries.

Peak oil
The IEA report notes that “The concept of peak oil production and its timing are emotive subjects which raise intense debate.”
Much rests on the definition of which segment of global oil production is deemed to be at or approaching peak. Certainly our forecast suggests that the non-OPEC, conventional crude component of global production appears, for now, to have reached an effective plateau, rather than a peak.

Having attained 40 mb/d back in 2003, conventional crude supply has remained unchanged since and could do so through 2012. While significant increases are expected from the FSU, Brazil and sub-Saharan Africa, these are only sufficient to offset declines in crude supply elsewhere. Put another way, all of the growth in non-OPEC supply over 2007-2012 comes from gas liquids, extra heavy oil, biofuels (and, by 2012, 145 kb/d of coal-to-liquids from China). As overall non-OPEC liquids capacity increases, this plateau reduces the share of non-OPEC conventional crude supply from 77% in 2000, to 74% in 2006 and 67% in 2012.

While there might be a temptation to extrapolate this trend, citing a peak in conventional oil output, a degree of caution is in order. Firstly, the concept of ‘conventional’ oil changes with time, technology and economics. In the early 1970s, much offshore production was deemed unconventional, but this portion of global supply has since grown to account for 30% of the total. Evolving economies of scale and infrastructure development could do the same for GTL, oil sands and ultra-deepwater reserves in the future, shifting today’s unconventional resource into tomorrow’s conventional supply category.

Moreover, rapidly-growing condensate and NGL supply is scarcely ‘non-conventional’ in a technical sense now. We also note that for certain regions, notably the FSU and West Africa, the turn of the current decade is likely to mark a hiatus in crude supply growth. Strong growth is expected to resume here towards the middle of the next decade. Whether this will be sufficient to offset the declines expected for mature OECD crude supply, preventing overall decline for non-OPEC, is less easy to predict.

Finally, we note that focussing on non-OPEC crude alone is a rather selective way of considering the sustainability of global oil production. Peak or plateau production is frequently taken as shorthand for impending resource exhaustion. While hydrocarbon resources are finite, nonetheless issues of access to reserves, prevailing investment regime and availability of upstream infrastructure and capital seem greater barriers to medium-term growth than limits to the resource base itself.
Refining capacity
The IEA forecasts global crude distillation capacity to rise by 10.6 mb/d between 2007-2012. New investments add 9.1 mb/d of crude distillation capacity and existing refineries in North America, Europe and the Pacific are assumed to add a further 1.5 mb/d through capacity creep. The Middle East and Asia will account for 6.7 mb/d of new crude distillation.

IEA: Medium-Term Oil Market Report - July 2007

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Syntroleum to deliver bio-based synthetic jet fuel to U.S. Department of Defense

Syntroleum Corporation announced today that it has signed a contract to provide synthetic jet fuel made from a renewable bio-based feedstock to the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). Syntroleum will provide a first-of-its-kind renewable fuel for evaluation by the DOD as part of a larger program aimed at long-term prospects for the domestic manufacture and supply of synthetic aviation fuels.

Under terms of the contract, Syntroleum will provide 500 gallons of ultra-clean renewable synthetic jet fuel produced entirely from fats supplied by Tyson Foods, using the company's recently announced Biofining technology (earlier post). The fuel will be used for research development and performance testing in military turbine applications as part of the DOD's Assured Fuels Program, aimed at evaluating the possibility of utilizing renewable alternative jet fuel made from bio-feedstocks. The U.S. Air Force has expressed its desire to source 50 percent of its fuel needs from domestic alternative sources by 2016, and plans to certify its entire fleet of aircraft for alternative fuel use by 2010.

Synthetic biofuels ('Biomass-to-Liquids') are obtained from gasifying biomass into a hydrogen and carbon monoxide rich gas ('syngas'), which is then transformed into ultra-clean fuels by the Fischer-Tropsch process (schematic, click to enlarge). More on synthetic biofuels, here.

In 2006, Syntroleum supplied 100,000 gallons of synthetic Fischer-Tropsch (FT) jet fuel to the DOD, which used the fuel in a 50/50 blend with conventional jet fuel in several test flights of a B-52 bomber (earlier post). The synthetic fuel blend was used to successfully power all eight engines of the aircraft in a final test flight on December 15, 2006. Research and testing by the military on Syntroleum's FT fuels have shown superior performance characteristics compared to aviation fuels produced by refining crude oil. Particulate matter (soot) emissions have shown a reduction of up to 90 percent depending upon the turbine engine type and operating mode. The reduced soot and sulfur emissions (FT fuel is nearly sulfur-free) significantly improve overall air quality. Syntroleum believes renewable synthetic jet fuel made from its Biofining(TM) technology and renewable feedstocks will exhibit similar qualities:
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"This contract with the U.S. Department of Defense is another significant milestone for Syntroleum," said Jack Holmes, CEO of Syntroleum. "When the contract is completed, we would be the first company to provide both renewable synthetic aviation fuel and FT aviation fuel to the Department of Defense for its certification and weapon system testing program. This acceptance of our alternative synthetic fuels once again validates the quality and integrity of our product, and the successful completion of this program will provide Syntroleum with an opportunity for other long-term supply contracts with the Department of Defense.

"Additionally, the potential to produce commercial quantities of these fuels using our Biofining(TM) technology in our recently announced Dynamic Fuels, LLC venture, initially utilizing fats and vegetable oils and eventually accessing the vast domestic biomass resources via Syntroleum's FT technology, provides a mechanism for diversifying our nation's energy supply and increasing domestic job growth."

Holmes added, "This announcement, directly on the heels of our agreement with Tyson Foods, Inc. to begin design and construction of Dynamic Fuels' first commercial renewable synthetic fuels plant, further strengthens and validates Syntroleum's business model. Our technology and products have been extensively tested and accepted by the U.S. government, private and academic research institutions and auto manufacturers."

Syntroleum: Syntroleum Signs Contract to Deliver Renewable Alternative Jet Fuel to U.S. Department of Defense - July 9, 2007.

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Satellite survey links tropical park fires with poverty and corruption

We often argue that deforestation and rainforest fragmentation in the Global South is primarily driven by poverty. Lack of income, market access and modern agricultural techniques force small farmers to keep relying on destructive agricultural practises that yield low amounts of wealth, such as slash-and-burn subsistence farming. If they were to find new products and markets on which to sell highly valuable products, they could switch to modern farming techniques that require far less land and that are considerably more sustainable. One of Biopact's main arguments is that biofuels and biomaterials offer such a market and opportunities for substantially increased incomes, certainly now that oil prices remain high and will only keep rising in the future.

Forest-rich nations could decide to find sources of income in other sectors, but would then have to redistribute these to the poor farmers who are directly involved in destructive agricultural practises. We know most of these 'trickle-down' schemes will not work, though. Biofuels on the contrary can be produced by the farmers themselves, and allow them at least to retain some form of control over the incomes they generate.

One thing is clear though, poverty remains the key driver of deforestation. Scientists who undertook the first global assessment of forest fire control effectiveness in tropical parks have found the correlation again, by looking at which countries succeed best in conserving their tropical forest. Their results show that both poverty and corruption correlate closely with lack of fire protection in tropical moist forests. A better understanding of these links between corruption, poverty and park management will help conservationists and policy makers create sophisticated strategies to conserve tropical ecosystems. Helping local farmers gaining more income will be one of the more important drivers of such strategies.

The survey will be published in the July issue of Ecological Applications, reported by lead author S. Joseph Wright, staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute; Arturo Sanchez-Azofeifa and Carlos Portillo-Quintero from the University of Alberta; and Diane Davies from the University of Maryland.

Satellite data on fire frequency provides a measure of park effectiveness across countries. It is strikingly clear from our study that poverty and corruption limit the effectiveness of parks set up to protect tropical forests. - Joseph Wright, staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

The survey indicates that parks were most effective at reducing fire incidence in Costa Rica, Jamaica, Malaysia and Taiwan; whereas parks failed to prevent fires in much poorer countries like Cambodia, Guatemala and Sierra Leone. Current integration of state-of-the-art remote sensing databases with Geographic Information Systems is allowed the scientists to better evaluate the effectiveness of conservation efforts in tropical environments.

While nearly all tropical countries have established parks to protect rainforests, not all have the political and economic means to enforce park boundaries and prevent illegal extraction of park resources. To better distinguish functional parks from 'paper' parks and to characterize the relationship between social factors and park protection worldwide, the team created an index comparing fire frequency inside and outside of 823 tropical and subtropical parks.

Low fire frequency within parks was chosen as an indicator of park effectiveness because the background level of fire in tropical moist forests is low, so the presence of fire often indicates that humans are engaged in timber extraction, clearing land for agriculture or other land-use conversion:
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The frequency was based on fire detection data from NASA�s satellite-based Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS). "The MODIS fire products enable us to monitor global fires and see how fire regimes are changing", says Chris Justice of the NASA MODIS fire team. He noted that information from the NASA Fire Information for Resource Management Information System Project provides a prototype to provide future long-term fire information from space tailored to the needs of resource managers.

Wright added that satellite data has limitations: "The satellite data must be carefully screened. Perhaps the clearest examples of this system's limitations were a park in Costa Rica and two parks in Indonesia where active volcanoes triggered the MODIS fire detection algorithm".

With fire frequency data in hand, researchers developed a set of social and economic indicators reflecting the level of poverty and corruption in each country. The Corruption Protection Index was provided by Transparency International; other information came from United Nations files and the CIA-World Fact Book.

As part of this publication, fire frequency data from 3,964 tropical reserves will be posted online. The authors hope that other investigators more familiar with reserves in particular countries or regions will use these data to better understand the causes of fires in parks and their management implications.

Picture: Fire near Soberania National Park, Panama. March, 2007. Credit: Christian Ziegler, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.


Eurekalert: Satellite survey links tropical park fires with poverty and corruption - July 9, 2007.

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Eurobarometer: Europeans support Millennium Development Goals

As the world's largest donor of development assistance, the EU has made serious commitments to achieving the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). On the eve of the symbolic mid-term date for these MDGs that have to be reached by 2015, a European Commission survey shows broad public support for the European Union's priorities in development co-operation. According to the Eurobarometer on Europeans and Development Aid, most EU citizens (66%) consider reducing extreme poverty and hunger in developing countries as a priority. Combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases is the second goal (46%), followed by access to education and ensuring sustainable development (graph, click to enlarge).

Across the EU, Sub-Saharan Africa stands out in most people's minds as being in greatest need of aid (64%). And interestingly, Europeans think the EU institutions should lead in decision making on development co-operation, more than the governments of the Union's member states or than NGOs.
This is clearly an issue on which Europeans are engaged, and so is the Commission. Last year, over €100 for every EU citizen went in official development assistance. Giving more aid, making it more effective, increasing the coordination among us and ensuring the coherence with other policies such as trade and environment: that is the way we can contribute to achieving the MDGs by 2015. - Louis Michel, Development and Humanitarian Aid Commissioner.
Commissioner Michel recently spoke at the International Conference on Biofuels in Brussels, where he identified green fuel production as an opportunity for development in poor countries. He pledged to spend part of a €220 million fund on aid to African countries to grow energy crops.

The new Eurobarometer on development co-operation shows that, overall, EU citizens appear to have rather well-defined ideas about the priorities of development aid. Reflecting the first objective of the MDGs, adopted by the UN in the year 2000, "reducing extreme poverty and hunger" is universally named as a top priority of development aid: 66% of EU citizens mention it as a top-three priority.

Linked to this, the majority of EU citizens (64%) consider that Sub-Saharan Africa is the area in greatest need of development aid. That's twice as much as the Indian sub-continent, which ranks second with 34%. This opinion is held by the largest segment of the poll in each Member State (graph, click to enlarge).

Regarding development aid for Africa, European citizens consider the fight against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and other diseases as the most important field for EU development aid (46%), before peace and security (43%) and human rights (37%). Bioenergy projects come at the crossroads of investments in rural development, energy infrastructures and the environment. When it comes to these fields, 30% of EU citizens sees rural development as a priority. A quarter think infrastructures for energy and water should be focused on. While only 12% see protection of the environment as a goal of major importance for aid to Africa (graph, click to enlarge):
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When it comes to the main motivation for richer countries to provide help to poorer countries, Europeans think pragmatically. 28% of EU citizens name global stability as the main motivation for development aid; another 28% name self-interest in terms of gaining economic advantages from increased trade between donor and recipient countries.

Moving on from opinions to knowledge, however, this study shows a considerable lack of knowledge of international development aid policy initiatives, such as the Millennium Development Goals (graph, click to enlarge) and the European Consensus on Development, a set of principles agreed by all EU institutions in December 2005 to improve the coherence and harmonization of European development aid. Even if a fifth and a quarter of EU citizens respectively have heard of these policies, only a very slight minority (4% and 6% respectively) is familiar with their content.

Interestingly, the largest proportions of Europeans think that the two EU bodies, the Commission and the Parliament, should have the most influence on the priorities for development aid to ACP countries, followed closely by the Member States’ governments (graph, click to enlarge). Since the EU was mentioned in the question asked, it can partly explain the relatively high figures for EU institutions. The remaining five actors – NGOs and other civil society organisations both in donor and recipient countries, governments of the recipient countries, citizens of the recipient countries, and European citizens - receive a fairly similar share of mentions.

In other words, EU citizens appear to think that the EU and its Member States are the legitimate actors to decide on the priorities of EU development aid while citizens and civil society as well as any actors in the recipient countries should have less influence.

The EU is the world's largest aid donor. In 2006, European official development aid amounted €48 billion, which represents 0.42% of GNI (exceeding the intermediate Monterrey target of 0.39% for 2006). In 2005, the European Council committed to raise aid spending by at least €20 billion per year by 2010 and to reach the 0.7% target by 2015.

The survey was carried out between in February and March 2007 in the 27 Member Sates of the European Union. Nearly 27,000 respondents were interviewed face-to-face at their homes in their national languages.

European Commission: Europeans support the Millennium Development Goals - July 7, 2007.

Eurobarometer: Europeans and Development Aid [*.pdf] - Fieldwork: February – March 2007, Publication: June 2007.

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Taiwan targets 25-fold increase in biofuel use by 2010

Taipei Times. Taiwan is targeting a 25-fold increase in biodiesel use in the next three years to cut reliance on energy imports and reduce emissions of harmful greenhouse gases, a government official says.

Biodiesel use may rise to 100 million liters or 630,000 barrels in 2010, from an estimated 4 million liters this year, Yeh Huey-ching, head of the Bureau of Energy, said in an interview. Diesel sold at filling stations will have to contain 1 percent biofuel starting next year from zero now, he said. Requiring all filling stations to sell biodiesel will mark a 'revolutionary step' for Taiwan, Yeh said.

Energy from the nation's own resources, mostly hydropower and natural gas, accounts for just 1.8 percent of supplies. Taiwan will use soybeans, sunflower seeds and recycled cooking oil to make biodiesel and turn sweet potatoes and corn into ethanol, Yeh said.

The biofuels plan may contribute to Taiwan eventually meeting as much as 8 percent of its own energy needs, he said, without giving a timeframe. Lawmakers must approve the proposal, which requires a change to the country's Petroleum Management Law.

Biodiesel use last year was restricted to 'a few hundred kiloliters' consumed mostly by garbage removal trucks. Consumption of ethanol for transportation may rise to 100 million in 2011, from zero now.

The project needs the support of state-run CPC Corp and of Taiwan and Formosa Petrochemical Corp, the nation's two oil refiners. CPC will start selling diesel with 1 percent biofuel content at 82 gasoline stations later this month:
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Starting September, eight CPC-run service stations will sell gasoline containing 3 percent ethanol and government departments will be encouraged to use the fuel, Yeh said.

Buses in Kaohsiung have been running on fuel that contains 2 percent biodiesel since January. And 35 lines and 79 buses in Chiayi County have started using fuel that contains 5 percent biodiesel since this month, Yeh added. Starting July 27, gas stations in Taoyuan and Chiayi counties will provide fuel containing 1 percent biodiesel to consumers.

Taiwan had 2,615 gasoline stations as of last month, according to the energy bureau. Diesel demand totaled 6.3 billion liters last year, while 10.3 billion liters of gasoline was used.

Biodiesel made in Taiwan currently costs NT$53 (€1.18/US$1.6) a liter, according to the energy bureau. That's more than double the NT$25.8 CPC charges for its premium diesel at filling stations.

The country might also be looking at imports, but Yeh did not expand on this.

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Fuel for Life: University of Copenhagen launches major bioenergy research program

The University of Copenhagen's Faculty of Life Sciences and the Faculty of Natural Sciences have launched a major bioenergy and biofuel research and education program called 'Fuel for Life'.

The political focus on bioenergy has recently increased, and both the Danish government’s Globalisation Fund [*.pdf] and the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme have earmarked large sums for research on the conversion of biomass to energy, bioproducts and biofuels. It is the ambition of the Faculty of Life Sciences to become a powerhouse within this field, also internationally.

To achieve this aim, the University of Copenhagen has made available large resources: almost 50 new research and PhD. positions, two new academic curricula on bioenergy starting on the 1st of September and a wide range of cooperation agreements with industrial players already active in the bioenergy sector, such as Statoil, Dong Energy and Novozymes.
We have spent 10,000 years on optimizing growth of crops for food and animal feed, but now we can start using the part that we don’t eat for energy. Denmark has the potential to produce two to four times more bioenergy than the EU requires. - professor Claus Felby from the Faculty of Life Sciences, Copenhagen University.
The EU's binding target is to have 20% of all its energy coming from renewables, including bioenergy, by 2020. In the transport sector, 10% of all fuels must be biofuels, by 2020. Denmark thinks it can easily meet and surpass these targets and the 'Fuel for Life' program will contribute to achieving these goals.

The 'Fuel for Life' project was presented in Tåstrup, west of Copenhagen, where Europe’s first sustainable fields for the integrated production of biofuels, animal feed and biomaterials are located:
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The faculty of Life Sciences possesses a unique combination of competences within farming, forestry, plant breeding, production systems, planning, development aid, environmental economy and organics, all competences that are supplemented by teams of scientists from other faculties at the University of Copenhagen as well as other institutions in Denmark. The interdisciplinary focus area 'Fuel for Life' brings together these research environments of the University of Copenhagen in a joint effort to develop sustainable production of bioenergy.

The project will organise monthly scientific seminars on bioenergy. These bioenergy seminars are a forum in which to present an inter-disciplinary audience with an overview of bioenergy topics as well as debate new ideas. Presentations will be in English and will be published at the project website. So check back often. Topics of recent seminars included 'New crops for bioenergy', 'Production systems' and 'Bioenergy and landuse'.

The academic interest and education in biofuels and bioenergy has skyrocketed over the past years. According to a recent study by the Bioenergy Network of Excellence (NoE), a European group of eight leading bioenergy institutes sponsored by the EU, Masters and PhD courses in bioenergy have been introduced at a lightning pace at European universities over the last five years: 55 out of the 60 Masters courses surveyed began between 2000 and 2005 (earlier post).

University of Copenhagen: Fuel for Life project website.

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EDF Trading enters international biomass market

EDF Trading (EDFT), the subsidiary of utility Electricité de France (EDF) responsible for wholesale market activity, has acquired biomass company Renewable Fuel Supply Limited (RFSL). EDFT is one of the largest pan-European, multi commodity wholesale traders of electricity, oil, gas and coal.

RFSL provides a biomass procurement service and logistical and technical support to coal-fired power generation companies that wish to co-fire biomass with coal. It has supplied over 400,000 tonnes of biomass since 2004, according to EDF.

Staff from RFSL who have moved to EDF Trading’s London office include Hank Jones, who will lead the biomass business. Jones was a co-founder and director at RFSL and has a wide range of experience in the energy sector, including posts at American Electric Power in London and Duke Energy Resource Corporation in Houston. Other team members include Nick Tsirigotis, Chris Matthews, and Scott Dooley.
EDF Trading has significant electricity, emissions, coal and freight trading businesses in the physical and financial markets so biomass is complementary to our existing activities. RFSL’s business also has synergies with the EDF Group who are committed to sustainable development and the production of electricity from renewable energy sources. - John Rittenhouse, managing director of EDF Trading.
RFSL researches and adopts many sources of biomass and new uses for these fuels. To date, the following are its most commonly traded biofuels for co-firing:
  • wood pellets (from the UK, Scandinavia, North America...)
  • shea meal and pellets (Mali, Cameroon, Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Uganda...)
  • energy crops (anywhere)
  • olive cake and pellets (Southern Europe)
  • palm kernel expeller (Malaysia, Indonesia, South East Asia, Africa)
  • palm kernel shells (South East Asia)
  • grape seed expeller (Europe, any wine-growing region)
  • copra meal and pellets (South East Asia, Caribbean)
  • liquid biofuels (crude palm oil, rapeseed oil...)
As can be seen, many of these biomass sources are agricultural residues for which farmers now receive a price, whereas before they would have had to pay to dispose of the residues. Especially for small farmers in the South, this new international biomass market opens interesting perspectives. Many more field and processing based residues than the ones listed here, could become viable and internationally tradeable biomass resources (a short overview of residues in the developing world). In theory, millions of farmers are now potential energy producers, whereas during the fossil fuel era, only a few countries, companies and sites were suppliers of energy. Bioenergy thus implies a kind of 'democratisation' of energy supplies.

A look at the supply chain

But in order for a coal plant to co-fire renewable biomass, a relatively complex supply chain [*.pdf] must be followed that depends on diffent transport modes and options (schematic, click to enlarge), the type of biomass and its origin, the continuously changing price of coal and the type of coal plant. Unlike fossil fuels, biomass is a natural product: its availability follows cyclical patterns and its chemical composition as well as its mechanical and combustion properties differ from one source to another:
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The first, critical step is careful selection of biomass to provide the user with a low cost biomass offering low plant risk and minimal capital investment. Biomass should avoid degradation of boiler steam raising capacity, and therefore the grindabilty and CV of the biomass are important parameters. These parameters show some seasonal variabilty.

Development of a just-in-time biofuel pipeline is then applied to an identified biomass source. This is not only the lowest working capital solution but also offers unparalleled flexibility to change fuel characteristics in response to changes in the power and coal markets.

The supplier then has to modify biomass at the procurement stage on behalf of the customer in order to obtain desirable mechanical and chemical properties. For example, pelletising of biomass (like olive residues) might be needed in order to reduce dust and odour whilst increasing furnace throughput. Biomass material must also be free from trace element contamination and aflatoxins.

Biomass offers many mechanical handling challenges, not just during the unloading of trucks but at every stage of the fuel handling route to the coal bunker. Careful selection of biomass products according to size distribution and minimum moisture content must ensure that a heathly working environment is maintained.

Commercially successful co-firing requires the biomass supplier and the power station to work closely together to develop a storage and logistics solution that offers the following (mutually competing) characteristics:
  • Low capital cost
  • Low working capital
  • Fast to implement
  • High reliability of fuel delivery
Onsite selection of storage solutions as part of the development of an optimum logistics chain is crucial.

RFSL works with accredited dust explosion research centers and major boiler manufacturers to establish comparative explosive characteristics for biomasses. Biomass tends to be highly volatile compared to traditional UK coals and milling plant often operates at temperatures close to the onset of thermal decomposition of biomass. RFSL supports the selection and testing of biomass in recognised industrial explosion testing research laboratories.

The high alkalinity of biomass ash together with the presence of fluxing agents can lead to increased fouling and slagging. This can be avoided with careful selection of biomass and coal, coupled with adoption of a biomass dosing system which has been designed for close control of biomass dose rates, thereby avoiding overdosing and the ensuing risk of fouling or slagging.

After the biomass has been co-fired, the ash must be utilised or disposed of. Biomass ash tends to be high in alkaline oxides compared to coal ash, and these oxides can increase the ash pH. This can result in low pH runoff from hydraulic disposal systems. Highly fertilised biomass, such as wastes from foodstuff crops, can also present highly soluble phosphate compounds in ash. Hence, it is very important that co-firing stations select biomass carefully.

In short, biomass supply chains are quite complex and dependent on continuously changing parameters. This complexity partly stems from the fact that the carbon neutral resource interacts with another fuel (coal), which alters parameters both at the beginning and the end of the chain.

Schematic: taken from IEA, "Sustainable International Bioenergy Trade: securing an international supply and demand", introductory leaflet [*.pdf].

Energy Risk: EDF Trading moves into biomass market - July 2, 2007.

Renewable Fuel Supply Limited: overview of technologies for biomass supply chain management.

Energidata AS, Transportøkonomisk institutt (TØI), KEMA Consulting, "Bioenergy logistics chain cost structure and development potential" [*.pdf], IEA Bioenergy Task 40, November 2005

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

First all-African genetically engineered maize is resistant to maize streak virus

In a major breakthrough for African biotechnology, scientists developed a maize variety that is resistant to one of the continent's most destructive crop diseases. Maize streak viruses (MSV), geminiviruses that can destroy most of a maize crop, are endemic to sub-Saharan Africa and adjacent Indian Ocean islands where they are transmitted by leafhoppers in the genus Cicadulina. Maize can supply 50% of the caloric intake in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in the Southern maize belt. But, in certain years, a farmer’s entire crop can be wiped out by the virus.

Now, scientists at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, along with colleagues at the South African seed company, PANNAR Pty Ltd, have developed a resistant variety of maize that they hope will help alleviate food shortages as well as promote the reputation of genetically engineered (GE) foods in Africa. Disease caused by similar geminiviruses, Wheat dwarf virus (WDV) and various sugarcane streak viruses, also affect other crops, including barley, wheat, oats, sugarcane, and millet. The scientists think the technology developed for MSV could potentially be adapted to develop resistance in these other crops.

From an Afro-optimist's point of view, this is yet another signal that the 'African Green Revolution' is only now beginning to emerge. The continent has vast potential to increase both food and fuel production, and GM crops may play a role, although they remain controversial. In any case, Africa may have missed the agronomic revolution of the 20th century, it won't miss the 21st.

Dr. Dionne Shepherd of the University of Cape Town will be presenting the results of her breakthrough work and that of coauthors B. Owor, R. Edema, A. Varsani, D.P. Martin, J.A. Thomson and E.P. Rybicki, at the annual meeting of the American Society of Plant Biologists in Chicago (July 8) in a major symposium on Plant Biology in Sub-Saharan Africa organized by Debby Delmer of the University of California Davis.

Maize, which originated in Mexico, was carried to Africa in the 1500s and eventually displaced native food crops such as sorghum and millet. Maize streak virus, an endemic pathogen of native African grasses, was then carried to maize plants by viruliferous leafhoppers. African scientists have been working for more than a quarter of a century on developing resistant varieties of maize by selecting and crossing varieties with various degrees of resistance to the virus.

However, resistance requires multiple genes located on different chromosomes, so the process is not straightforward. The group at the University of Cape Town took the opposite approach. They mutated a viral gene that encodes a protein that the virus needs to replicate itself and inserted it into maize plants. When the virus infects one of these transgenic maize plants, the mutated protein, which is expressed at a high level, prevents the virus from replicating and killing the plant.

The transgenic maize variety has proven consistently resistant to MSV and the trait can be reliably passed on to the next generation and in crosses to other varieties. Field trials are scheduled to begin soon, not only to test the effectiveness of the technology in the field but also to ensure that the GE maize variety has no unintended effects on beneficial organisms that may feed on it. The resistant maize will also be tested to ensure that the viral protein is digestible and non-allergenic. The MSV-resistant maize is the first GE crop developed and tested solely by Africans:
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The group of scientists also surveyed 389 Ugandan MSV isolates to assess the diversity and genetic characteristics of this destructive pathogen.

They found that the most prevalent strain of this virus is a product of recombination of different viral genotypes, thus identifying an important source of new pathogenic variants and illustrating the constantly changing evolutionary battle between plants and pathogens.

MSV was first sequenced in 1984 and found to contain a genome of only 2700 DNA bases in a circle of single-stranded DNA. When it infects susceptible plants, they produce deformed cobs and are often severely dwarfed. As the name of the virus suggests, the leaves are marked with parallel, yellow-white streaks.

The timing of infection, the maize genotype, and prevailing climatic conditions can all influence the extent of damage wreaked by this viral pathogen. Young plants cannot survive the infection but older plants are better able to contain the infection, resulting in smaller losses of grain. However, drought can have a devastating effect on maize fields over a wide geographical area. Under warm and wet conditions, a long-bodied morph of the leafhopper C. mbila (picture) emerges, but this form only travels short distances of 10 meters or less, thus limiting its damage to crops. Under drought conditions, a stronger, short-bodied morph that can fly great distances spreads the disease over large areas, thus exacerbating the effects of the drought itself.

Disease caused by similar geminiviruses, Wheat dwarf virus (WDV) and various sugarcane streak viruses, also affect other crops, including barley, wheat, oats, sugarcane, and millet.

Thus, the technology developed for MSV could potentially be adapted to develop resistance in these other crops. Virologist Edward Rybicki and microbiologist Jennifer Thomson are hopeful that this year’s field trials will demonstrate not only the effectiveness of this technology in producing resistance to a destructive pathogen but also the safety of GE foods. Part of the objective is to provide seed that will be sold at a minimal profit to subsistence farmers, thus removing the objection that GE technology is principally profit-driven.

Eurekalert: First all-African produced genetically engineered maize is resistant to maize streak virus - July 8, 2007.

University of Cape Town, Department of Molecular and Cell Biology: Symptoms and Effects of MSV.

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