<body> --------------
Contact Us       Consulting       Projects       Our Goals       About Us
home / Archive
Nature Blog Network

    GreenHunter Energy, Inc. announces that its wholly-owned subsidiary, GreenHunter BioFuels, Inc., located in Houston, Texas has successfully acquired Air Emission Permits from TCEQ (Texas Commission of Environmental Quality) under TCEQ's Permit by Rule (PBR) programs. These permits open the way for construction of a 105 million gallon per year (mgy) biodiesel facility including a separate but related methanol distillation facility. PRNewswire - July 30, 2007.

    Together with Chemical & Engineering News' Stephen K. Ritter, the journal Environmental Science & Technology sent Erika D. Engelhaupt to Brazil from where she wrote daily dispatches of news and observations about biofuels research. In particular she focuses on a bioenerrgy research partnership between the American Chemical Society, the Brazilian Chemical Society, and the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA). Check out her blog. Dipatches from Brazil - July 28, 2007.

    Consultation is under way on a £50 million (€74/US$101million) renewable energy plant planned for the South Wales Valleys. Anglo-Dutch company Express Power plans to build a wood-fuelled biomass plant on Rassau Industrial Estate in Blaenau Gwent. The plant will generate an annual 160,000 MWh (Mega Watt hours) of green electricity for Wales from forestry, recycled wood and wood derivatives. ICWales - July 27, 2007.

    The price of New York crude leapt to 77.24 dollar a barrel on Thursday, marking the highest level since August 9, 2006, as keen global demand and tight supplies fuelled speculative buying, traders said. On Wednesday, the US government had revealed that inventories of American crude fell by 1.1 million barrels last week. France24 - July 26, 2007.

    Arriva, one of Europe's largest transport groups is trialling B20 biodiesel for the first time on 75 of its buses. The company is aiming to reduce total carbon emissions by around 14 per cent by using biodiesel as a 20 per cent blend (predominantly be a mixture of sustainable soya products, along with used cooking oil and tallow). The 75 buses in the innovative trial will carry around 130,000 passengers every week. Minimal engineering changes will be required to the fleet as part of the scheme. Arriva - July 26, 2007.

    Marathon Oil Corporation announces that it has completed two more projects adding biodiesel blended fuel at its Robinson and Champaign terminals in Illinois. The terminals now feature in-line ratio blending in order to provide soy-based B-2 (two percent biodiesel) and B-11 (eleven percent biodiesel). Marathon Oil - July 25, 2007.

    Norway-based renewable energy firm Global Green One has agreed to set up a € 101.6 million bioethanol plant in Békéscsaba (southeast Hungary), with more facilities planned for Kalocsa, Szombathely and Kõszeg, the latter of which was already a target for a €25 million plant in May this year. The Békéscsaba plant would process 200,000 tonnes of maize per year, employing around 100 people. The logistics part of the facility would also create 100 jobs. The company expects the factory to generate €65 million in revenues each year. Portfolio - July 25, 2007.

    A Canadian firm, Buchanan Renewable Energies, is to begin an investment into Liberia's biomass industry that will grow to US$20 million in October and offer 300 jobs by end of the year. The company will start shipping 90 major pieces of equipment to Liberia by the end of August. Daily Observer (Monrovia) - July 24, 2007.

    KNM Process Systems Sdn Bhd, has secured a RM122 million (€26/$36m) order to build a biodiesel plant in Pahang, Malaysia, for Mission Biofuels Sdn Bhd, a subsidiary of Australian biofuels company Mission Biofuels Ltd. The plant will have a biodiesel output of 750 tonnes per day and glycerine output of 82 tonnes per day. Malaysia Business Times - July 24, 2007.

    AlgoDyne Ethanol Energy Inc. confirms that its retail partner, Canadian Green Fuels, has entered into an agreement with Cansource BioFuels to open a new biodiesel production facility in Mayerthorpe Alberta. The deal will see the construction and development of a community based, integrated crushing and biodiesel facility to process 10 million litres of ASTM certified canola based biodiesel which will be scaled up to produce 40million litres by 2010. BusinessWire - July 23, 2007.

    The Center for Management Technology announces the second Biomass-to-Liquids Technology conference will take place in Vienna this year, from 12 to 13 September. The current state of BTL-technologies will be presented and discussed. Biomass-to-Liquids conversion pathways are seen by many as promising avenues into the world of second generation biofuels that relies on the use of a broad variety of possible biomass feedstocks. CMT - July 23, 2007.

    Gulf Ethanol Corporation, a Houston-based energy company, announced today that it has initiated negotiations with representatives of government and industry in Uruguay. Discussions, coordinated by the U.S. Department of Commerce, centered on the synergy between Gulf Ethanol's interest in exploiting the potential of sorghum as a non-food fuel stock for ethanol production and the ideal conditions for growing the crop in Uruguay. The company criticizes the use of food crops like corn for ethanol in the U.S. and is seeking alternatives. Yahoo Press Release - July 20, 2007.

    Dutch company Capella Capital N.V. announces its investment in BiogasPark N.V. and acquires a 20 % stake upon the foundation of the company. The remaining shares are held by the management and strategic investors. BiogasPark N.V. will invest in the field of renewable energy and primarily focuses on financing, purchasing and the maintenance of biogas plant facilities. Ad Hoc News - July 20, 2007.

    Bioenergy company Mascoma Corp. is to build the world's first commercial scale cellulosic ethanol plant in Michigan where it will collaborate with Michigan State University. The $100 million plant will rely on the biochemical, enzymatic process that breaks down biomass to convert it to sugars. One of the factors that attracted Mascoma to Michigan was the recent $50 million federal grant MSU received to study biofuels in June. MSU will help in areas such as pretreatment technology for cellulosic ethanol production and energy crops that can be utilized by the plant. The State News - July 20, 2007.

    PetroChina, one of China's biggest oil companies, aims to invest RMB 300 million (€28.7/US$39.6m) in biofuel production development plans. A special fund is also going to be jointly set up by PetroChina and the Ministry of Forestry to reduce carbon emissions. Two thirds of the total investment will be channeled into forestry and biofuel projects in the provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan and Hebei, the remainder goes to creating a China Green Carbon Foundation, jointly managed by PetroChina and the State Forestry Administration. China Knowledge - July 19, 2007.

    Netherlands-based oil, gas, power and chemical industries service group Bateman Litwin N.V. announces it has signed an agreement to acquire Delta-T Corporation, a leading US-based bioethanol technology provider, with a fast growing engineering, procurement and construction division for a total consideration of US$45 million in cash and 11.8 million new ordinary shares in Bateman Litwin. Bateman Litwin - July 18, 2007.

    TexCom, Inc. announced today that it has signed a letter of intent to acquire Biodiesel International Corp. (BIC), and is developing a plan to build an integrated oilseed crushing and biodiesel production facility in Paraguay. The facility, as it is currently contemplated, would process 2,000 metric tons of oil seeds per day, yielding approximately 136,000 metric tons (approximately 39 Million Gallons) of biodiesel and 560,000 metric tons of soy meal pellets per year. Initial feedstock will consist mainly of soybeans that are grown in the immediate area of the proposed production plant in the Provinces of Itapua and Alto Parana. MarketWire - July 18, 2007.

    Spanish power company Elecnor announced that it will build Spain's biggest biodiesel production plant for €70 million (US$96.48 million). The plant, in the port of Gijon in northern Spain, will be ready in 22 months and will produce up to 500,000 tonnes of biodiesel a year from vegetable oil. The plant will be one of the world's biggest. Spain has decided to impose mandatory blending of biofuels with conventional fossil fuels as part of European Union efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Elecnor [*Spanish] - July 18, 2007.

    The University of North Dakota Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) conducted a feasibility study to determine the most economical solutions to provide biomass energy to the isolated Chugachmiut Tribal Community in the village of Port Graham, Alaska, located on the Kenai Peninsula about 180 miles southwest of Anchorage. The village is only accessible by air or water, making traditional fossil fuel sources expensive to deliver and alternative forms of energy difficult to implement. The case study based on decentralised bioenergy offers interesting parallels to what would be needed to provide energy to the developing world's huge population that lives in similarly isolated conditions. EERC - July 18, 2007.

    According to a basic market report by Global Industries Inc., world biodiesel sales are expected to exceed 4.7 billion gallons (17.8 billion liters) by 2010. Though Europe, with a share estimated at 84.16% in 2006, constitutes the largest market, and will continue to do so for the coming years, major growth is expected to emanate from the United States. The automobile applications market for biodiesel, with an estimated share of 55.73% in 2006 constitutes the largest as well as the fastest growing end use application. Other applications independently analyzed include the Mining Applications market and the Marine Applications market. PRWeb - July 18, 2007.

    O2Diesel Corporation announced that it has received the regulatory approvals necessary to start delivering its proprietary diesel ethanol blended fuel, O2Diesel, in the French market. The approvals pave the way for O2Diesel to move forward into the next stage of its European market development strategy by commencing deliveries to a number of targeted fleets in France. MarketWire - July 17, 2007.

    The BBC World Service is hosting a series of programmes on the global obesity pandemic. Over the coming two weeks a range of documentaries and discussions will be held on the obesity time-bomb that is growing all over the West, but also in the developing world. In North America, a quarter of people are now morbidly obese, 60% is overweight, and one in three children will become obese. The epidemic is spreading rapidly to China and India. BBC World Service - July 16, 2007.

    A new report from Oregon State University shows the biofuels industry is on track to be a $2.5 billion chunk of the state's economy within 20 years. The study identifies 80 potential biodiesel, ethanol and biomass facilities which could produce a combined 400 million gallons (1.5 billion liters) per year of ethanol and another 315 million gallons (1.2 billion liters) of biodiesel. On an oil equivalent basis, this comes down to around 38,000 barrels per day. Oregon State University - July 16, 2007.

    Jatropha biodiesel manufacturer D1 Oils has appointed a leading plant scientist to its board of directors. Professor Christopher Leaver, Sibthorpian professor of plant science and head of the plant sciences department at Oxford University, has joined the Teesside company as a non-executive director. Professor Leaver, who was awarded a CBE in 2000, is a leading expert in the molecular and biochemical basis of plant growth and differentiation. D1Oils Plc - July 16, 2007.

    Panama and South Africa are set to cooperate on biofuels. A delegation consisting of vice-minister of Foreign Affairs Azis Pahad, of Finance, Jubulai Moreketi and of Finance, met with Panama's vice-chancellor Ricardo Durán to discuss joint biodiesel and ethanol production and distribution. Panama's goal is to become a hub for internationally traded bioenergy, making use of the strategic position of the Canal. La Prensa Gráfica [*Spanish] - July 14, 2007.

    Spanish investors are studying the opportunity to invest in agro-industrial projects in Morocco aimed at producing biofuel from the Jatropha plant. Morocco’s Minister for Energy and Mines, Mohammed Boutaleb, said Moroccan authorities are willing to provide the necessary land available to them, provided that the land is not agricultural, is located in semi-arid regions, and that the investors agree to use water-saving agricultural techniques, such as drip-feed irrigation. Magharebia - July 14, 2007.

    Philippine Basic Petroleum Corp. plans to raise as much as 2.8 billion pesos (€44.4/US$61.2 million) through a follow-on offering and loans to finance a 200,000 liter per day bio-ethanol plant in the province of Zamboanga del Norte. The move into biofuels comes in anticipation of the implementation of RA 9367 or the Philippines biofuels law. RA 9367 mandates five percent bioethanol blending into gasoline by 2009, and 10 percent by 2011. Manila Bulletin - July 14, 2007.

    The Michigan Economic Development Corporation last week awarded a $3.4 million grant to redevelop the former Pfizer research facility in Holland into a bioeconomy research and commercialization center. Michigan State University will use the facility to develop technologies that derive alternative energy from agri-based renewable resources. Michigan.org - July 13, 2007.

    Fuel prices increased three times in Mozambique this year due to high import costs. For this reason, the country is looking into biofuels as an alternative. Mozambique's ministries of agriculture and energy presented a study showing that more than five million hectares of land can be used sustainably in the production of crops that would produce biodiesel fuels. The first phase of a biofuel implementation plan was also presented, identifying the provinces of Inhambane, Zambezia, Nampula and Cabo Delgado as the first to benefit. News24 (Capetown) - July 12, 2007.

    The Malaysian Oleochemical Manufacturers Group (MOMG) has urged the government for incentives and grants to companies to encourage the development of new uses and applications for glycerine, the most important byproduct of biodiesel. Global production of glycerine is currently about one million tonnes. For every 10 tonnes of oil processed into biodiesel, one tonne of glycerine emerges as a by-product. Bernama - July 12, 2007.

    BioDiesel International AG has acquired 70 per cent of the shares in Lignosol, a Salzburg based company that is making promising progress in Biomass-to-Liquids conversion techniques. The purchase price is in the single-digit million Euro range. ACN - July 10, 2007.

    Gay & Robinson Inc. and Pacific West Energy LLC announced today a partnership to develop an ethanol plant in Hawaii based on sugarcane feedstocks. The plant's capacity is around 12 million gallons (45 million liters) per year. The partnership called Gay & Robinson Ag-Energy LLC, will also ensure the continuation of the Gay & Robinson agricultural enterprise, one of the oldest in Hawaii. Approximately 230 jobs will be preserved, and a large area of West Kauai will be maintained in sustainable agriculture. Business Wire - July 10, 2007.

    Water for Asian Cities (WAC), part of UN-Habitat, is extending partial financial support for the construction of several biogas plants across the Kathmandu valley and develop them as models for municipal waste management. The first biogas plants will be built in Khokna, Godavari, Kalimati, Patan, Tribhuvan University premises, Amrit Science College premises and Thimi. The Himalayan Times - July 09, 2007.

    EnviTec Biogas's planned initial public offering has roused 'enormous' interest among investors and the shares have been oversubscribed, according to sources. EnviTec has set the IPO price range at €42-52 a share, with the subscription period running until Wednesday. EnviTec last year generated sales of €100.7 million, with earnings before interest and tax of €18.5 million. Forbes - July 09, 2007.

Creative Commons License

Monday, July 30, 2007

Oil spill clean-up agents threaten coral reefs

One of the main advantages of biofuels and bioproducts is their biodegradability. Especially in marine environments this is an important benefit (more here and here). A biofuel spill would not have the disastrous consequences seen when an oil tanker breaks and releases petroleum into the sea.

Oil-spill clean-up agents are more lethal to coral reefs than the oil they are supposed to clean-up
There is no easy fix to clean up sticky black crude oil once it has been released into the marine environment. What is more, researchers from the National Institute of Oceanography in Israel now report a major setback for efforts to protect endangered coral reefs from such spills: oil dispersants - the best tool for treating oil spills in tropical areas - are significantly more toxic to coral than the oil they are used to clean up. Their study, which urges caution in the use of these materials, has been released as an open access article in Environmental Science & Technology.

Called the 'rainforests of the sea', coral reefs are an endangered ecosystem and are disappearing at an alarming rate due to numerous threats, including over-fishing, global warming and pollution, particularly oil spills. Besides hosting a rich diversity of marine organisms, these habitats are also potential sources of life-saving medicines and food for humans. Scientists looking for better ways to protect this important habitat have recently focused on the environmental impact of oil dispersants, detergents used break down oil spills into smaller, less harmful droplets.

In the new report, Shai Shafir and colleagues evaluated the effects of both crude oil and six commercial oil dispersants under laboratory conditions on the growth and survival of two important species of reef corals. The dispersants and dispersed oil droplets were significantly more toxic to the coral than the crude oil itself, the scientists report. The dispersants caused significant harm, including rapid, widespread death and delay in growth rates, to the coral colonies tested even at doses recommended by the manufacturers, they add.
In this broader study, we employed a "nubbin assay" on more than 10 000 coral fragments to evaluate the short- and long-term impacts of dispersed oil fractions (DOFs) from six commercial dispersants, the dispersants and water-soluble-fractions (WSFs) of Egyptian crude oil, on two Indo Pacific branching coral species, Stylophora pistillata and Pocillopora damicornis. Survivorship and growth of nubbins were recorded for up to 50 days following a single, short (24 h) exposure to toxicants in various concentrations. Manufacturer-recommended dispersant concentrations proved to be highly toxic and resulted in mortality for all nubbins.
It is estimated that 40% of global crude oil transport is conducted offshore with much of the traffic, taking place in tropical, coral reef-rich areas. This heavy maritime traffic of crude oils and their products is prone to accidents, resulting in major or minor spillages. Although the number of major oil spills has decreased in the past decade it is still, by far, the most serious threat to the marine environment:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Of the three major ways for treating marine oil spills (chemicals, mechanical containment booms, skimmers and sorbents, biological-biodegrading microorganisms), chemicals, mainly oil dispersants, are probably the most commonly used, the scientists say.

Dispersants are chemicals that contain surfactants and/or solvent compounds that break down floating oil into small droplets within the water-column, which makes the spill less likely to reach shore. Dispersed oil is subjected to natural forces such as waves and currents that promote dissolution of oil droplets.

Use of dispersants for treating oil spills is governed by local and national regulations determining, for instance, distance from shore and depth at which treatment is allowed. However, since most oil-tanker accidents occur near the shore, it is essential to evaluate the impacts of oil dispersants on organisms that live on the seabed, including sea grass populations and coral reefs.

Given that manufacturer-recommended dispersant concentrations proved to be highly toxic and resulted in mortality for all nubbins and that they were significantly more toxic than crude oil, the scientists rule out the use of any oil dispersant in coral reefs and in their vicinity.

The authors therefor urge decision-making authorities to carefully consider these results when evaluating possible use of oil dispersants as a mitigation tool against oil pollution near coral reef areas.

Image: Oil-spill clean-up agents are a threat to coral reefs, researchers say. Courtesy: Shai Shafir, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Shai Shafir, Jaap Van Rijn, and Baruch Rinkevich, "Short and Long Term Toxicity of Crude Oil and Oil Dispersants to Two Representative Coral Species", Environ. Sci. Technol., 41 (15), 5571 -5574, 2007. 10.1021/es0704582 S0013-936X(07)00458-0, Web Release Date: June 26, 2007, scheduled print edition August 1, 2007.

Article continues

New aerogels could purify hydrogen for fuel cells

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory have identified a new technique for cleansing contaminated water and potentially purifying hydrogen for use in fuel cells, thanks to the discovery of a innovative type of porous material. Given that one of the most feasible ways to produce renewable and climate-neutral hydrogen is via biomass (overview), the research into purification techniques is of obvious interest to the biohydrogen community.

Argonne materials scientists Peter Chupas and Mercouri Kanatzidis, along with colleagues at Northwestern and Michigan State universities, created and characterized porous semiconducting aerogels (image, click to enlarge) at Argonne's Advanced Photon Source (APS). The researchers then submerged a fraction of a gram of the aerogel in a solution of mercury-contaminated water and found that the gel removed more than 99.99 percent of the heavy metal. They publish their findings in an open-access article in the July 27 issue of Science. The researchers believe that these gels can be used not only for this kind of environmental cleanup but also to remove impurities from hydrogen gas that could damage the catalysts in potential hydrogen fuel cells.
When people talk about the hydrogen economy, one of the big questions they're asking is 'Can you make hydrogen pure enough that it doesn't poison the catalyst?' While there's been a big push for hydrogen storage and a big push to make fuel cells, there has not been nearly as big a push to find out where the clean hydrogen to feed all that will come from. - Peter Chupas, Argonne National Laboratory
The aerogels, which are fashioned from chalcogenides — molecules centered on the elements found directly under oxygen in the periodic table — are expected to be able to separate out the impurities from hydrogen gas much as they did the mercury from the water: by acting as a kind of sieve or selectively permeable membrane. The unique chemical and physical structure of the gels will allow researchers to "tune" their pore sizes or composition in order to separate particular poisons from the hydrogen stream:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

"You can put in elements that bind the poisons that are in the stream or ones that bind the hydrogen so you let everything else fall through," Chupas said. For example, gels made with open platinum sites would extract carbon monoxide, a common catalyst poison, he explained.

The research team had not intended to create the aerogels, but their discovery proved fortunate, said Kanatzidis. Originally, the researchers had used surfactants to produce porous semiconducting powders instead of gels. When one of the researchers ran the synthesis reaction without the surfactant, he noticed that gels would form time after time. "When we saw that these chalcogenides would make a gel, we were amazed," said Kanatzidis. "We turned the flask upside down and nothing flowed."

Generally, such reactions produce only uninteresting precipitates at the bottom of the flask, he said, so that in this case, "we knew we had something special."

Kanatzidis and his co-workers recognized that aerogels offered one remarkable advantage over powders: because the material maintained its cohesion, it possessed an enormous surface area. One cubic centimeter of the aerogel could have a surface area as large as a football field, according to Kanatzidis. The bigger the surface area of the material, the more efficiently it can bind other molecules, he said.

Previous experiments into molecular filtration had used oxides rather than chalcogenides as their chemical constituents. While oxides tend to be insulators, most chalcogenides are semiconductors, enabling the study of their electrical and optical characteristics. Kanatzidis hopes to examine the photocatalytic properties of these new gels in an effort to determine whether they can assist in the production, and not merely the filtration, of hydrogen.

Unlike periodic materials, which possess a consistent long-range structure, the gels formed by the Northwestern and Argonne researchers are highly disordered. As a result, conventional crystallographic techniques would not have effectively revealed the structure and behavior of the gels. The high-energy X-rays produced by the APS, however, allowed the scientists to take accurate readings of the atomic distances within these disorganized materials. "This is where the APS really excels. It's the only place that has a dedicated facility for doing these kinds of measurements, and it allows you to wash away a lot of old assumptions about what kinds of materials you can and cannot look at," Chupas said.

The initial research into porous semiconducting surfactants was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation. Use of the APS was supported by DOE, Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences.

Image: (A) Different building blocks used in chalcogel formation (blue spheres, metal centers; red spheres, chalcogenide atoms). (B and C) Monolithic hydrogel before (B) and after (C) supercritical drying, showing very little volume loss.

Santanu Bag, Pantelis N. Trikalitis, Peter J. Chupas, Gerasimos S. Armatas, and Mercouri G. Kanatzidis, "Porous semiconducting gels and aerogels from chalcogenide clusters", Science 27 July 2007: Vol. 317. no. 5837, pp. 490 - 493, DOI: 10.1126/science.1142535

Argonne National Laboratory: New aerogels could clean contaminated water, purify hydrogen for fuel cells - July 27, 2007.

Article continues

Evergreen BioFuels starts offering competitive biomass pellets for utilities

Montreal-based Evergreen BioFuels (EBF), a developer of sustainable and carbon-neutral bioenergy fuels for powering utilities, announced today the availability of its 'Power Pellets' biofuel. Power Pellets are clean-burning solid biomass fuels that drastically reduce carbon dioxide output without costing billions of dollars in installation and lost revenue. EBF is introducing Power Pellets at a time when U.S. federal and state legislators are looking to restrain the growth of greenhouse gas emissions.

In the U.S. thirty percent of carbon dioxide emissions are generated by utilities and industry. Many researchers see biomass co-firing as the most feasible answer for radical reduction of industrial CO2 output.

The pellets made by EBF consist of condensed wood, agriculture crop and industrial fibers and can be developed and manufactured without relying on government subsidies or driving up the market value for food commodities due to the current diversion of food crops such as corn to liquid biofuels.

Substituting a portion of carbon emitting fuels like coal with Power Pellets and co-firing them together will allow utilities to see an immediate reduction in their carbon footprint. Co-firing – the combined combustion of coal and biomass – and can work within existing plant infrastructure without the need for replacement or retrofit of current technology and equipment thus directly reducing net CO2 emissions (more on co-firing here, and the numerous references there). EBF Power Pellets are available in three different formats: bulk, one ton sacs, or on pallets of 1 ton or 1.5 tons containing individual Power Pellet branded bags.

According to EBF, energy generated from the fuel is currently highly competitive with coal, natural gas and fuel oil (table, click to enlarge). These cost-estimates are roughly consistent with independent analyses which show that of all fuels and energy systems, co-firing biomass currently and in the future offers the least costly way of generating energy:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

In addition to making its Power Pellets available to the industrial marketplace, EBF is currently working directly with plants and utilities on developing and implementing sustainable and clean-burning alternative fuel.

EBF is also piloting innovative research studies into progressive bioenergy sources for its suite of Power Pellets products including switchgrass, fast-growing willow and agriculture byproducts, ultimately resulting in future environmentally-conscious alternatives to current fossil fuel technology.

"Current carbon reduction solutions for utilities which include carbon sequestration, are at least 15 to 20 years away from being feasible, while state and local legislators vigorously push for mandates and limits on carbon dioxide emissions," says Dr. Janusz A. Kozinski, Dean, College of Engineering, at University of Saskatchewan and International Chair of Bioenergy Europe, Institute for Advanced Studies, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. "Large power plants need a viable carbon-reducing solution that can be quickly implemented without disrupting day-to-day plant operations."

But even though carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies may be a decade away, if biomass is used in such systems, the resulting energy becomes carbon-negative, further reducing greenhouse gas emissions radically. This makes biomass a highly attractive fuel, because no other energy system yields carbon-negative power. Scientists have found the use of 'Bio-energy with Carbon Storage' (BECS) to be one of the only cost-effective ways of mitigating global warming if the planet were to face an 'abrupt climate change' scenario. According to some, we are already nearing such a dangerous future.

Biopact: Quick comparison of renewable energy and fossil fuel prices - February 26, 2007.

Biopact has been writing numerous pieces on carbon-negative bioenergy. A starting point would be a recent article: Policy and regulatory framework crucial for CCS success, and the references and links there.

Article continues

EU to free up set-aside land to ease cereal prices

Mariann Fischer Boel, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, recently announced her intention to submit to the Commission a proposal to set at 0 % the obligatory set-aside rate for autumn 2007 and spring 2008 sowings, in response to the increasingly tight situation on the cereals market.

In the EU-27, a lower than expected harvest in 2006 (265,5 million tons) has led to tightening supplies at the end of marketing year 2006/2007 and to current historically high prices. Intervention stocks have shrunk considerably, from 14 million tonnes at the beginning of 2006/2007 to 2.5 million tons now, mainly composed of maize held in Hungary. This year, initial results of the barley and wheat harvests are moderate, except in Spain, and the wet weather continues to disrupt or delay the harvests in western Member States.
The proposal should be seen as an answer to the present tight market situation covering autumn 2007 and spring 2008 sowings. Farmers can still continue to set-aside voluntarily a part of their arable area. This initiative should not be seen as an attempt to pre-empt the 2008 Health Check of the Common Agricultural Policy. In that context a review of the cereals policy will take place, including the issue of set-aside. - Mariann Fischer Boel, EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development
EU farmers currently set aside about 4 million hectares — or close to 8 percent of arable land — under a mandatory system set up in the early 1990s to eliminate a glut of E.U. grain supplies.

US corn ethanol snowball effect
At global level, closing stocks in 2007/2008 are expected to fall to their lowest level in 28 years, at 111 million tons, including only 31 million tons in the five major exporters. Exceptionally high prices are likely to persist due to a combination of bad harvests in important cereal producing countries as well as growing demand for cereals and in particular maize for the production of bio-ethanol. In particular the strong development of the ethanol industry in the United States is having a snowball effect on the price of other cereals.

According to Commission estimates, a 0 % set-aside rate could encourage European Union farmers to produce an additional quantity of about 10 to 17 million tons in 2008, which could contribute to easing market tension:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The proposal will concern only autumn 2007 and spring 2008 sowings. A decision on a permanent basis would require a global grain policy review and an analysis on how and by which means we can address the positive environmental side effects of set aside, which will be conducted during the CAP health-check review.

Set-aside was introduced to limit production of cereals in the EU and applied on a voluntary basis from 1988/89. After the 1992 reform, it became obligatory i.e. producers under the general scheme were required to set-aside a defined percentage of their declared areas in order to be eligible to direct payments. With the 2003 reform, they received set-aside entitlements, which give the right to a payment if they are accompanied by one ha of eligible land put into set-aside.

The rate of obligatory set-aside was initially decided every year but in 1999/2000 it was set permanently at 10 % for simplification purposes. In the new Member States that opted for the Single Area Payment Scheme (SAPS), farmers are exempted from the obligation of set-aside (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Cyprus). In the EU, the current area under obligatory set-aside amounts to 3.8 million hectares.

Setting the set-aside rate at zero does not oblige farmers to cultivate their lands. They can continue to set them aside on a voluntary basis and to apply environmental schemes. Cross-compliance applies on all arable lands.

Biofuels minor impact on EU food prices
According to Jean-Francois Loiseau of Passion Cereales, a French trade association, the establishment of biofuels will only mobilise five per cent of agricultural surfaces in Europe.

Increased cereal prices have in large part been a result of growing demand from Asian giants China and India, along with droughts in Australia and eastern Europe, two major cereal producing regions, says Loiseau.

But compared with countries such as Mexico, where the price of corn determines in large part the cost of staple foods like tortillas, in Europe cereal prices weigh little in the final cost of items such as French bread or Italian pasta.

According to Loek Boonekamp of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an increase of 20 per cent in the price of basic agricultural products results only in a rise of 1.0 per cent on store shelves.


European Commission: Cereals: Proposal to set at zero the set-aside rate for autumn 2007 and spring 2008 sowings - July 16, 2007.

Herald-Sun: EU to free up land for biofuel crops - July 29, 2007.

Article continues

Malaysian plantation company tries to add value with bioenergy and bioproducts

According to Credit Suisse Research, Malaysian company TSH Resources Bhd’s earnings will be given a boost from rising crude palm oil (CPO) prices, but also by new refining capacity and by maiden profits from a biomass power project and from bioproducts and carbon credits. The company is trying to green its image and tries to squeeze profit out of waste.

Plantation-based TSH, with a market capitalisation of 1.2 billion ringgit (€253/US$346), had planted 20,500 hectares of oil palm trees (9,000ha matured and 11,500ha immature) and it has another 43,500ha of new landbank in Indonesia for future expansion.

Its plan is to plant 10,000ha to 15,000ha per annum. The management has indicated its Fresh Fruit Bunches (FFB) output will grow at 20% per annum over 2006-2010, as 56% of its plantations will mature in stages over the next three years.

Credit Suisse remarks that TSH has embarked on a series of 'value-added' projects, giving it an 'environment-friendly' image, which is quite a rarity in Malaysia. The projects include a biomass power plant fed by palm residues, a biogas project utilizing palm mill effluents, green paper made from empty fruit bunches (EFB), and fully certified carbon credits. The company has now made a 'waste is profit' philosophy a core value:
It is known that only 20% of the biomass in oil palm trees is utilized. We foresee huge potential for commercial application of the remaining 80% deemed as 'wastes'. Thus, we are pioneering a fully integrated bio-integration complex, with biomass power plant, biogas power plant and palm pulp and paper plant.
The vast biomass residue stream from palm plantations can be used in many different ways for the production of solid, gaseous or liquid biofuels as well as bioproducts ranging from paper to bioplastics (earlier post). THS has chosen for a straightforward and currently commercially feasible approach by building 14MW biomass power plant using mainly fiber-rich EFB as fuel. It also built a large biogas power plant to channel methane gas from palm oil mill effluents expected to come online in the second half of 2007.

On the cards is a plan to make 'EkoPaper' from empty fruit bunches, with a pulping plant scheduled to come online in mid-2008. The paper will be based on totally chlorine free bleaching of EFB. THS says that the economic value of 1 tonne of EFB as mulch is low, but that as a raw material for paper making, the return is more than 10 times:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Further TSH has teamed up with Wilmar in a 50:50 joint venture in a 800,000-tonne refinery in Sabah, which has been operational since January 2007. Current utilisation is 50% and it will be ramped up to 75% by year-end. "Management has indicated that the refinery was profitable from the first day of operations," it said.

On the carbon credits, Credit Suisse said TSH expected to start earning fully certified carbon credits through the biomass project in the second half 2007. Although profits from its carbon credit are not significant relative to the group’s total profits, TSH is taking the sustainability issue seriously. It has committed half of its carbon credits to the Swiss Foundation.

TSH, through its brand Ekowood, sells engineering hardwood timber flooring. These products are environmental friendly, with certification from the Forest Stewardship Council, and 85% of the products are exported.

Another core business is trading in cocoa butter, cocoa powder, and cocoa cake to multinational corporations such as Hershey and Cadbury. Credit Suisse said for FY07, management indicated the strong profit increase of 60%-75% would be driven by rising CPO prices and this would see the palm division becoming more dominant in 2007 and 2008.

Picture: palm plantations yield a large amount of biomass currently not being used for products. One 'waste product' is derived from the 'fresh fruit bunches' (top), which, after the palm fruits which contain the palm kernels are removed, results in fiber and cellulose-rich 'empty fruit bunches' (middle), which can be defibrized (bottom) and used to make, for example, paper. Credit: Tanaka Ryohei - Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute, Japan.

The Edge Daily: TSH rides on rising CPO prices - July 30, 2007.

THS: Why waste the waste?

Tanaka Ryohei, Mori Yutaka and Kosugi Akihiko, "Utilization of oil palm empty fruit bunches as 'solid materials' " [*.pdf], Third Biomass Workshop, Japan - November 2006.

Article continues

Economists: current biofuel potential in Oregon may be costly and limited

With current technologies, the adoption of biofuels in Oregon could reduce the state's fossil fuel use by less than one percent, but at a much higher cost to society than more direct approaches such as a gasoline tax or raising fuel economy standards. That is the conclusion of a basic study [*.pdf] published this week by the Oregon State University Extension Service. The results are more widely applicable to other regions in the US. The findings strengthen the case for those who press for international trade in biofuels based on interdependence instead of 'resource nationalism' and energy 'independence'.

The study, by OSU economists William Jaeger, Robin Cross, and Thorsten Egelkraut, compared three types of biofuels — corn ethanol, canola biodiesel, and wood-based (cellulosic) ethanol. They examined their commercial viability, potential production scale, and cost-effectiveness for achieving energy independence and reducing greenhouse gases.
The promotion of biofuels is a public issue. Would a shift to biofuels achieve energy independence and a reduction of greenhouse gas? To answer this, we need to compare the cost for different approaches. Especially in terms of energy independence, these biofuels represent a costly and inefficient method compared to other approaches the government might take to achieve the same goal. - William Jaeger, Oregon State University economist
The researchers estimate that to achieve a given improvement in energy independence, biofuels could be 6 to 15 times more costly than other policy approaches such as raising fuel economy standards for vehicles.

When looking exclusively at reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, however, their analysis suggests that both canola biodiesel and wood-based ethanol may be cost-effective ways to achieve that goal.

The results are also mixed in terms of commercial competitiveness (graph, click to enlarge). The study finds that corn ethanol and canola biodiesel are currently commercially viable in Oregon, thanks in part to lavish government subsidies and regulations that have increased demand and lowered the cost of production. However, current production costs are still too high to make wood-based ethanol commercially attractive:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

How can these biofuels be commercially competitive yet represent very high-cost ways to achieve energy independence? The authors explain that in addition to subsidies that lower the cost of production while adding cost to taxpayers, there are large differences in the amounts of fossil-fuel energy required to produce each fuel, and there are large differences in the amount of energy contained in a gallon of each fuel. In other words, the energy balance of the different fuels varies considerably.

The OSU study looked only at large-scale commercial production of these three biofuels. The authors acknowledge that local or on-farm production may offer other advantages in some cases. They also caution that their estimates are subject to future changes in prices, technologies, or other developments.

The authors find that the potential scale of production for these biofuels in Oregon is limited. They estimate that these biofuels could contribute no more than a fraction of one percent of Oregon's current energy use.

"The main results of our analysis do not depend on our regional focus," Jaeger said. Although the scale of production of Midwest corn ethanol and soybean-based biodiesel is much larger than Oregon biofuels, the cost and cost-effectiveness of their production is not much different.

International trade
The results of the study differ considerably from earlier (technical) assessments made by the United States Department of Energy, especially in its 'Billion Ton' report which determined that the land resources of the United States are capable of producing a sustainable supply of biomass sufficient to displace 30 percent or more of the country’s present petroleum consumption.

More careful analyses like those made by the OSU scientists show that a case can be made for international biofuels trade. In the Global South cost-competitive fuels can be made without subsidies and in a much more energy efficient way while reducing greenhouse gas emissions more substantially. There is no reason why American tax payers should not import these fuels, instead of subsidizing their own 'national' biofuels that are not competitive and (in the case of first generation fuels) do to reduce greenhouse gases much.

Oregon State University Extension Service: Biofuel Potential in Oregon: Background and Evaluation of Options [*.pdf], Special Report 1078 - July 2007.

U.S. DOE: Biomass as Feedstock for a Bioenergy and Bioproducts Industry: The Technical Feasibility of a Billion-Ton Annual Supply [PDF, 5.5 MB] - 2005.

Article continues