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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, August 18, 2007

Community based biodiesel production in Ghana brings power, drinking water and transport fuels

An excellent example of the many advantages of local, decentralised biofuel production comes from a small village in Ghana. There, Dumpong Biofuels, in collaboration with the Dumpong Pineapple Growers Cooperative, has begun producing biodiesel from locally sourced and abundant palm kernel oil. Dumpong Biofuels is an NGO based in the country's Eastern Region, aiming to develop and support small scale, community-based biofuel production to replace ever more costly petroleum fuels. The fuel is used to generate electricity, to pump and purify water, and to power farm equipment and the farm's trucks.

Last month a team from the United States traveled to Dumpong, a small village near Aburi, to work with the cooperative to build a small processor to convert locally grown and extracted palm kernel oil into biodiesel. The production costs of the biodiesel are approximately 25% less than the current price for diesel fuel.

By working with community based palm oil processors and with local labor the project brings additional income and quality of life improvements to the nearby villages (slideshow).

Transport fuels and electricity are important for local development, but both resources are scarce and expensive. Local biofuel production allows the community to overcome two problems: the cost of imported petroleum fuels, and their irregular supplies. For the first time, villagers can pump water from a well and purify it, instead of gathering it from dirty streams (slideshow). The biodiesel powered pump saves women (and children) time and the clean water reduces the risk of disease. A local entrepreneur uses electricity from a biodiesel powered generator to package potable water in plastic sachets (photo, click to enlarge), a product he sells on the market (slideshow).

Jerry Robock, team leader from the U.S. who helped the cooperative, says the biodiesel is obtained by very basic equipment via transesterification. Glycerine is a byproduct from the process that can be utilized locally to make soap. The pilot project cost between US$ 600 and 1000 and can be replicated in many other rural communities and similar villages.

The small biodiesel processor was built on the farm of Frank Aidoo, president of the Dumpong Pineapple Growers. The processor comprises two 200 liter steel drums welded together with an electric heating element screwed through one opening. Additional piping and a small electric pump were added to pump palm kernel oil and a solution of methanol with potassium hydroxide into the processor, then circulate the mixture and finally pump the biodiesel into a washing tank:
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The processor was built over two days and production began immediately. Over the next three days 550 liters of golden biodiesel was produced which has already been used to power a generator and to fuel the farm’s vehicles.

After the palm oil is processed into biodiesel it is washed to remove any impurities or unconverted reagents. It is then ready to be used as a substitute for diesel fuel. Due to the solvency quality of biodiesel it must initially be blended with diesel fuel as it works to clean the fuel system of the vehicle. Fuel filters will need to be changed at the start but biodiesel will actually clean the fuel system to make the vehicle perform more efficiently. Biodiesel can be mixed with diesel fuel in any proportion and there is no modification to the engine to use this fuel.

Some biodiesel will be used to power a generator that currently pumps water for a small sachet water (bottling) plant that provides clean drinking water. Frank plans to use this new fuel source to allow him to pump water to a storage tank in the nearby village to eliminate the current practice of sourcing water from a nearby stream.

The palm kernel oil is sourced from a neighboring village where palm kernel nuts are cracked to extract the palm nut. The palm nut is then crushed and boiled over a fire of palm kernel husks to separate the palm oil, which is then gathered and stored. The palm oil used for biodiesel is not further refined.

Dumpong Biofuels strategy is to take advantage of locally available oilseed crops, to included jatropha and sunflower seed, to convert into an environmentally renewable and sustainable fuel to be used locally to replace imported and dirty diesel fuel.

Images courtesy of Dumpong Biofuels.

Dumpong Biofuels homepage.

Dumpong biofuels: original project proposal [*.pdf].

Dumpong Biofuels: photo galleries.

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Forest genetics researchers to sequence and catalog conifer genes for future biofuels research

Jeffrey Dean, professor of forest biotechnology in the University of Georgia's Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, is spearheading a project at the U.S. Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute (JGI) that will greatly expand the gene catalog for pines and initiate the first gene discovery efforts in five other conifer families.

The project will be a significant piece of the JGI's Community Sequencing Program, which focuses state-of-the-art genome analysis resources on biological organisms that have implications for helping wean dependence on fossil fuel. An international team of scientists coordinated by the JGI recently succeeded in sequencing the genome of the poplar tree, seen as an important bioenergy crop (earlier post). Other crops under investigation are Eucalyptus, cassava, sorghum as well a wide range of microorganisms that could be used for bioconversion processes (overview and more on sequencing bacteria, here).
The wood from conifers will almost certainly be an important component of this nation's biomass energy strategy. but despite extensive commercial plantations they remain essentially an undomesticated species. Information from this project will greatly enhance the ability of our tree improvement programs to develop pines tailored to suit the needs of the future bioenergy industry. - Jeffrey Dean, professor of forest biotechnology, Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources
The goal of Dean's research is to produce a comprehensive catalog of all the genes expressed as conifers grow, develop and respond to their environments. By comparing genes expressed by different conifer species in similar tissues under similar conditions, scientists will be able to more quickly identify the key genes controlling tree growth and development. Such studies will also improve our understanding of the formation of biomass components such as lignin that impede production of biofuels from lignocellulosic materials, including wood.

Although the JGI recently produced a complete genome sequence for poplar, the first woody perennial plant species so characterized, that information has certain limitations for comparison to conifer species, which diverged from poplars and other flowering plants while dinosaurs still dominated the Earth:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Complete sequencing of a conifer genome is still a ways off since their genomes are typically enormous, but a complete catalog of expressed conifer genes would still be a watershed for our ability to study, predict and understand how conifer genetics have contributed to the survival of these magnificent trees through hundreds of millions of years.

While final details on specific species and numbers of sequences are still being worked out, Dean, the lead investigator, and his four co-investigators David Neale (University of California, Davis), Glenn Howe (Oregon State University), Kathleen Jermstad (USDA Forest Service) and Deborah Rogers (Center for Natural Lands Management), will focus much of their initial efforts on loblolly pine, a conifer native to the southeastern United States and a species that by itself is responsible for approximately 16 percent of the world's annual timber harvest.

Loblolly pine is a primary target for this research project because of its current commercial importance in the southeastern United States, as well as its potential for providing biomass to future biofuels markets, Dean said.

Other targeted species for the project include coast redwood, one the fastest growing conifers, and Wollemia nobilis, a species related to the Norfolk Island pine that was thought extinct until a small grove was discovered in Australia in 1994. More than fifty research laboratories from around the world have pledged their support for this project. They, along with many others, will benefit from immediate access to all gene sequences from the project, all of which will be available online as they are produced at JGI.

Picture: loblolly pine (Pinus taeda). In the Southern U.S. there is more timberland - at least 182 million acres - than cropland and pasture combined. Approximately one-third of the South is covered with pine trees. Loblolly pine is by far the most abundant species, grown commercially for timber. With the advent of second-generation bioconversion technologies, the biomass crop becomes an important biofuel source.

University of Georgia: UGA forest genetics researcher leads effort to sequence and catalog conifer genes for future biofuels research - August 17, 2007.

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

Biopact: U.S. DOE to sequence the DNA of six photosynthetic bacteria to make biofuels - October 11, 2006

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Biohydrogen fuel cells to bring water, energy and telecoms to remote communities in Indonesia

The Indonesian government says it will launch a pilot 'Community Integrated Utility Program' (CIUP) to provide power, potable water and telecommunications for people living in disadvantaged and remote regions across the vast archipelago. The systems are based on stationary fuel cells that will be powered by locally produced biohydrogen. Ethanol production would be integrated into the concept.

This is a prototypical example of how developing regions can 'leapfrog' into a clean and sustainable future by utilizing the latest technologies. The project would be a world's first in that it would rely on implementing high-tech power systems in a decentralised manner in impoverished communities. What is more, income generated from the sale of products obtained from the sysem (potable water, energy, ethanol) is estimated be sufficient to finance the project.

State Minister for Accelerated Development of Disadvantaged Regions M. Lukman Edy said the government would select several regions as pilot projects before rolling out the program across the country. The same ministry earlier implemented a strategy to bring wireless 3G communications to remote areas (more here).

The CIUP could be an alternative solution to the absence of power and telecommunications facilities in disadvantaged regions, Lukman said. He added the project will be initially funded by private local and foreign enterprises, and would use technology developed in Europe and China.

CIUP senior adviser professor Reginald Theijs said the project would utilize biomass conversion of forest and agricultural waste into ethanol and hydrogen to produce power. Biohydrogen can be made from the fermentation of carbohydrate fractions of biomass by thermophilic and photoheterotrophic microorganisms or by the gasification of lignocellulosic biomass (overview). It is not clear whether ethanol production would be directly integrated into the proposed system, but technically it would be possible.

Under the plan, local communities consisting of approximately 800 families will form cooperatives to run the production system and provide power, water and telecommunications, in cooperation with private or state-owned banks. Communities, through local banks, will receive special loans to purchase all the necessary technologies, provided by special agents.
The hydrogen will be distributed, free of charge, to local residents and with hydrogen fuel cells, also provided free of charge, will be converted into electricity, and thereby will create a developed power system to areas which currently have not been reached by power networks. This system will provide sufficient electricity to run a full range of household equipment and telecommunication systems. - Professor Reginald Theijs, adviser Community Integrated Utility Program
The system would provide sufficient energy for each household to run a small reverse osmosis system to produce some 600 liters of potable water per day, of which each household will retain 100 liters and the remaining 500 liters will go to a central depot for sale:
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The ethanol produced by the biomass converter will also be sold. Combined with the potable water and communication services, the ethanol will generate sufficient income to repay the capital cost in less than three years.

Deputy minister for cooperatives and small and medium enterprises, Tatag Wiranto, said the initial stage of the CIUP would take place at the end of 2008 in remote areas of Sabang in Aceh, Rokan Hulu in Riau, Bitung in North Sulawesi, Nabire in West Papua and Merauke in Papua.

The CIUP project will be carried out over 10 years with some 6 million families who will get free electricity and potable water from this project.

The technology is environmentally friendly because it produces zero carbon dioxide emissions and utilizes biomass, which does not pollute the environmen, professor Theijs said.

: fuel cells for stationary power applications can be compact and are suitable for off-grid, remote locations. Pictured is a 300 kW fuel cell that works on biogas (reformed into hydrogen) from FuelCell Energy.

Jakarta Post: Utility program to reach remote regions - August 18, 2007.

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European biotech industry releases its policy on biofuels

EuropaBio – the EU association for bioindustries – has released [*.pdf] a consensus response to the 'integrated energy and climate change package' proposal, endorsed by EU Heads of State earlier this year and currently discussed in European Parliament. The association summarizes its policy for first and second generation biofuels as follows.

The available biomass in Europe will need to increase in order to achieve ambitious goals of biofuel use set by the European Union (5.75% in 2010 and 10% in 2020) in a sustainable and competitive way. Cultivating energy crops on set-aside and noncultivated land will contribute, but this will not be sufficient to fulfill all the demand.

The industry says that the output per hectare needs to be increased as well as crop quality that offers more fermentable carbohydrates or higher oil content crops. This can be done via plant science (modern plant breeding techniques and biotechnology) in combination with state-of-the-art application of crop protection.

Another important step to increase the biofuel production is the development of second generation biofuels; this involves the competitive production of biofuels from (hemi)cellulose and organic agricultural waste. Especially industrial biotechnology – mainly (hemi)cellulose degrading enzymes with improved efficiency - will be crucial to obtain this.

Interestingly, the organisation thinks the EU should set a quota that allows farmers from developing countries, where the potential is vast, to export a certain amount of biofuels or feedstocks to the EU, provided they are produced sustainably.
Biotechnology is today one of the most effective and innovative tools we have to attain European targets for biofuel use in a sustainable way. We are all excited about getting to the second generation biofuels, but I would like to underline that in order to facilitate the transition towards second generation biofuels, a market for first generation biofuels is needed, with an appropriate infrastructure and distribution. - Steen Riisgaard, President of Novozymes and Chairman of EuropaBio.
The EuropaBio’s recommendations call for EU initiatives to boost the use of biofuels and advocate a step-by-step approach from the current first generation to more advanced biofuels. Specifically, the industry:
  • calls upon the Member States to implement, as soon as possible, the principle of binding targets for blending biofuels with petrol and diesel
  • supports a change in fuel standards to permit a higher biofuel content in blends of petrol and diesel; and
  • advocates performance based regulation that encourages efficient delivery of biofuels which are most effective in reducing green house gas emissions
In order to harvest the full potential of biofuels, EuropaBio encourages European legislators to follow a similar approach to the USA and China and initiate policy measures which will allow second generation biofuels to become a viable, commercial business within the next 4-6 years:
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This should include support to further research in second generation technologies as well as support for demonstration projects.

Develop the integrated diversified biorefinery - an integrated cluster of industries, using a variety of different technologies to produce chemicals, materials, biofuels and power from biomass raw materials - will be a key element in the future.

EuropaBio encourages European legislators to establish a certification system for sustainable production and use of biofuels in order to ensure that biomass production always complies with good agricultural and labour practices and ensures a good and responsible balance between food and non-food crop production, complying with existing international standards and agreements.

Robust, realistic and coherent sustainability schemes - to be respected all over Europe, and preferentially worldwide - could help to achieve this.

EuropaBio does not support any unsustainable use of plant material for biofuel production and advocates that the use of biomass for fuel purposes should not jeopardise European and third countries’ ability to secure its people’s food supply, nor should it prevent achieving environmental priorities such as protecting forests, preventing soil degradation and keeping a good ecological status of waters.

Biofuels and Developing Countries

EuropaBio understands that development of biofuels also has a large potential for developing countries. In developing countries the majority of the population often lives in rural areas and subsists on agriculture. Such peoples are more vulnerable to natural disasters such as storms, floods and droughts and all efforts to counteract climate changes will therefore be beneficial. Global warming itself is today, a bigger danger to the biodiversity in these areas.

The development of biofuels will also bring direct opportunities to developing countries because their production will create many local jobs in the value chain from growing raw materials to their actual manufacture.

Industrialised countries must be prepared to set up the right regulatory frameworks with their local counterparts which can support a sustainable development for these countries and prevent unsustainable cutting of rain forests and similar (such as biofuels and sustainable production certification schemes). A realistic quota system where a certain percentage of the biomass has to be produced in the EU could create opportunities for European farmers as well as for developing countries.

Biofuels and GMO plants
The early phase of second generation biofuels will rely on current biomass (mainly crops and wood) and their agricultural residues as well as on improved enzymes and other technologies to make the process more effective. In the longer term horizon, the necessary increase in yield may probably only be achievable with modern plant breeding techniques - including plant biotechnology - and state of the art plant production methods, including the use of modern fertilization and plant protection systems.

As already seen in other parts of the world, modern plant varieties produced by biotechnology lead to far higher and more consistent yields. Also in Europe plant biotechnology can thus optimise land use and increase competitiveness and sustainability of European agriculture. Likewise, modern plant biotechnology may contribute to also grow energy plants in areas with marginal agricultural conditions, such as drought and saline zones or areas with very heterogeneous production conditions (frost, heat, flooding etc.).

This would open unique opportunities for marginal rural areas to play an economic role again in future and contribute to raising their countries Gross Domestic Products (GDP).

EuropaBio: Biofuels in Europe. EuropaBio position and specific recommendations [*.pdf] - June 2007.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Scientist improves biomass productivity of winter wheat, relevance for next-generation biofuels

Liuling Yan, a Chinese scientist working at Oklahoma State University’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, is making major breakthroughs in wheat improvement. For his latest discoveries, which boost the yields of winter wheat, he used a DNA marker for a genomic region developed to select lines for biomass production that can be utilized as forage or as a supplemental biofuel feedstock. The findings make the economics of dual-purpose winter wheat more attractive and may result in higher biomass productivity - a fact with obvious consequences for second-generation biofuels which are made from residues such as straw.

Yan, who is recognized as world-class scientist with impressive accomplishments in the development and application of molecular genetics tools and techniques, is working in collaboration with Brett Carver, OSU Regents professor of wheat genetics and breeding. The team recently discovered a genome region that has a significant effect on the development process of winter wheat. The DNA marker for this genomic region was developed to select lines for biomass production.
This exciting find was achieved based on the genetic segregation of flowering time in a population generated from a cross between two winter cultivars, Jagger – a typical early flowering wheat variety – and 2174, a late-flowering wheat variety. David R. Porter, head of OSU’s department of plant and soil sciences
The Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology recently awarded $90,000 for two years to support Yan’s work in the cloning of this gene that is so beneficial to the dual purpose wheat in Oklahoma.

Complex genome
Yan is recognized worldwide in the scientific plant community as a leader in the cloning of genes from the large and ultra-complex genome of wheat. The wheat genome contains 16 billion base pairs, the DNA building block: that is five times the size of the human genome and approximately 120 times the genome size of Arabidopsis, the first plant to have its entire genome sequenced and a baseline model used for studying plant biology:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Throw in the fact that wheat is a hexaploid species having three similar genomes and most people get lost in the science fairly quickly, says Mark Hodges, Oklahoma Wheat Commission executive director. The bottom line is that what Dr. Yan does is not easy, and Oklahoma is very fortunate to have him working on improvement of the state’s wheat crop, adds Hodges.

Economic boost
And by 'Oklahoma' he means all of Oklahoma is benefiting from Yan’s work, not just the state’s agricultural industry. "At August 15 prices, the cash price of an average crop in Oklahoma would be more than $900 million if we would have harvested a normal crop, which, of course, we weren’t able to manage this year because of the weather and other factors," Hodges said.

Hodges added that figure does not take into account the livestock or pounds-of-beef-produced aspects of wheat production and use. "In a normal year, wheat can easily account for more than $1.5 billion to the rural parts of the state, and eventually affects the entire state’s economic well-being," Hodges said.

USDA data – backed up by OSU research conducted by Division scientists – indicate the average increase of yield attributed to variety research is a half bushel per acre per year. "If you figure 30 bushels per acre in average yield and we increase that by a half bushel every year, at current prices that would be an increase of $3 per acre a year in return to the producer just in terms of the genetics," Hodges said. "Talk about providing a benefit."

A proud university
It is little wonder that the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) featured Yan on its cover when he cloned the third vernalization gene from wheat in 2006. The cover and open-access companion article reporting Yan’s findings made him the subject of considerable scientific attention. "PNAS is the premier science journal in the nation, actually the world", Porter said.

Vernalization requirement, long-term exposure to low temperatures to flower, is a common phenomenon in Oklahoma winter wheat varieties. "Revealing the vernalization genes in varieties would provide valuable information vital to our efforts to improve Oklahoma wheat, which in turn would provide direct and indirect benefits to Oklahoma’s agricultural industry and the state economy," Porter said.

Since Yan’s arrival in Oklahoma, he has taken his PNAS-published research one step further, by discovering key minute differences in the DNA of winter wheat varieties and their initiation of reproductive development.

"What this means to our wheat breeding program, and to the Oklahoma wheat producer, is that we’ll be able to tell with much greater confidence if a new variety can be grazed one to two weeks longer without sacrificing grain yield," Carver said. Just one more week of grazing could put an additional $3 per acre to $4 per acre in the producer's pocket.

"Yan’s our man," Carver said. "Yan’s type of research fits Oklahoma’s way of producing beef and wheat from one crop like a golf club fits Tiger Woods’ hands."

A native of China, Yan spent six years at the University of California-Davis prior to joining the OSU faculty. He was educated mainly in his native country but earned his doctoral degree in plant genetics in Australia.

Picture: Wheat field covered in snow, illustrating the adaptation of this crop to cold temperatures. Yan discovered that one of the main vernalization (cold-temperature induction of flowering) genes in wheat, VRN3, is similar to Arabidopsis FLOWERING LOCUS T (FT). Gene expression levels of the barley and wheat FT genes are significantly higher in plants homozygous for the dominant Vrn3 allele (which promotes early flowering) than in plants homozygous for the recessive vrn3 allele (late flowering). The wheat and barley FT genes account for some of the natural variations in vernalization, providing new insights into the adaptive diversity of these important crops. Credit: Agripicture.

L. Yan, et. al., "The wheat and barley vernalization gene VRN3 is an orthologue of FT", PNAS | December 19, 2006, vol. 103, no. 51, pp. 19581-19586, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0607142103

Oklahoma State University, Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources: OSU wheat breeder’s genetic code-breaking means dollars to Oklahoma and region - August 16, 2007.

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Vietnam to build two cassava and sugarcane ethanol plants

Vietnam's Bien Hoa Sugar Company and Singapore's Fair Energy Asia Ltd have signed a memorandum of understanding for the construction of an ethanol factory capable of producing 50,000 tonnes a year.

This is Vietnam's second largest ethanol project. The biofuel plant will be built in an industrial zone in Ninh Dien village, Chau Thanh district, in the southwestern province of Tay Ninh. The two companies will contribute equal capital to the project but they did not disclose the facility’s proposed total cost. The factory will be fed by waste-streams (molasses) obtained from processing sugarcane and cassava, of which Tay Ninh is the biggest national producer.

Vietnam has a large potential for the production of cassava, a high-yield energy crop that thrives in poor soils and requires relatively few inputs. Scientists found that ethanol made from the tuber crop shows a very strong energy balance, making cassava an efficient biofuel plant (previous post). Residues from cassava can be used as a biomass source for energy, or as animal feed.

A second ethanol plant will be built by Japan's Itochu Corp. and state-run PetroVietnam subsidiary Petrosetco. The companies have signed an agreement to build the US$100 million biofuels facility in Ho Chi Minh City’s Hiep Phuoc Industrial Park.

This facility too would use cassava chips to make the ethanol. It is expected to produce 100 million liters (26.4 million gallons) of ethanol annually. The product will be sold in Vietnam to supply the manufacturing and transportation industries. The new factory will meet around 10 per cent of projected demand for E10 in the country:
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The mixing of ethanol in petrol will help the country reduce its petrol imports as well as cut environmental pollution, said Tran Cong Tao, Petrosetco's chief of executive.

Itochu group, with its 30 years of experience handling ethanol projects, is willing share its knowledge with the Vietnamese partner and will contribute to the first successful bio-ethanol project in Vietnam, according to Itochu's deputy executive director Toshio Shigemi.

Deputy Minister of Industry Do Huu Hao and Vice Chairman of the municipal People's Committee Nguyen Trung Tin spoke highly of the cooperation between Petrosetco and Itochu to create a new kind of energy for Vietnam.

Construction of the plant is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2009.

Image: Vietnamese farmer standing in a 'forest' of mature cassava plants. Credit: Nippon Foundation.

Vietnam News Agency: Largest ethanol making project takes shape - August 15, 2007.

Vietnam News Agency: Japan helps build Viet Nam's first bio-ethanol plant - March 9, 2007.

Biopact: First comprehensive energy balance study reveals cassava is a highly efficient biofuel feedstock - April 18, 2007

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Technip to engineer biomass power plant that will run on dedicated energy grass

French engineering group Technip has been awarded a front end engineering design contract by the Biomass Investment Group (BIG) for their closed loop biomass power plant project located in Florida which will use 'E-Grass' (Arundo Donax, also known as 'Giant Reed') as a farm grown herbaceous energy crop. This contract also includes the design and supply of a process demonstration unit, approximately 1/10th scale.

This project will be the world's first large-scale operation for producing electricity from a crop grown specially for conversion into green electricity. This biomass energy source is renewable and presents environmental advantages such as a substantial reduction in carbon emissions, no-till agriculture and low power plant emissions.

Technip's operations and engineering center in Claremont (California) will execute the contract. The plant will utilize BIG's proprietary bioconversion process to transform the biomass into a liquid fuel for use in a combined cycle combustion-turbine generator system.

It will also be the world's first grass fired power plant to sell green electricity to utilities and other clients under long-term power purchase contracts. BIG recently signed a 130MW Power Purchase Agreement with Progress Energy (previous post).

Dedicated energy crop

E-Grass or Arundo Donax is a high-yield perennial grass species that resembles bamboo or sugar cane. Its fast growth, low moisture and mineral needs and its strong energy yield make E-Grass a good energy crop (earlier post).

Once established, the crop grows like bamboo – spreading its roots and producing a number of new shoots. It requires about 25 inches of water per year to survive, tolerates brackish water, and uses a minimal amount of nutrients from the soil.

Mature stalks grow to an average height of twenty feet and an average diameter of one inch. At the end of the growing season, plants are harvested in a manner similar to sugar cane. Even after cutting, Arundo Donax will continue to grow new plants each year from it rhizomes and does not have to be replanted. The crop can be harvested up to twice annually. Over 100,000 stalks can be grown on an acre of land once the crop has reached maturity:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

For BIG's projects located in the Gulf of Mexico region (including the U.S. Gulf Coast), the herbaceous perennial crop will be grown for the company's energy production systems and external product markets. Further advantages of Arundo donax are:
  • the fact that it is a fast-growing plant that produces large yields in warm climates.
  • the fact that its stalks have a naturally occurring coat of wax that repels moisture and protects the chips from deteriorating during storage.
  • the fact that it is widely used as an ornamental plant for landscaping throughout the southern United States.
  • the fact that it requires less water due to its deep roots.
Such a fast-growing high-yield crop enables BIG to maximize its energy production per unit of cropland area, thereby realizing optimal resource use.

Furthermore, the crop is extremely hardy, has no natural enemies, and grows in poor soils without fertilizer and with very little rainfall. The plant flourishes in warm climates and is a very efficient converter of the sun's radiation into biomass.

The Biomass Investment Group earlier announced in was investing in energy plantations in the Philippines, where it will be planting Miscanthus, another energy grass, that will be converted into bio-oil and then shipped to end users (previous post).

With a workforce of 22,000 people, Technip ranks among the top five corporations in the field of oil, gas and petrochemical engineering, construction and services. Headquartered in Paris, the Group is listed in New York and Paris.

The group's main operations and engineering centers and business units are located in France, Italy, Germany, the UK, Norway, Finland, the Netherlands, the USA, Brazil, Abu-Dhabi, China, India, Malaysia and Australia.

In support of its activities, the group manufactures flexible pipes and umbilicals, and builds offshore platforms in its manufacturing plants and fabrication yards in France, Brazil, the UK, the USA, Finland and Angola, and has a fleet of specialized vessels for pipeline installation and subsea construction.

Biopact: U.S. company planting Miscanthus in the Philippines for biofuels production - February 20, 2006

Biopact: Progress Energy Florida to buy electricity from largest biomass gasification plant - July 27, 2007

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Study states the obvious: cutting down rainforests for biofuels is not a good idea

In an article published in the Policy Forum of Science, researchers at the University of Leeds and a conservationist from the World Land Trust have succeeded in stating the obvious: cutting down rainforests to grow biofuel crops leads to more greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenhouse gas emissions from biofuels based on deforestation, are larger than those of petroleum fuels.
The only biofuel currently made from crops grown on rainforest land is biodiesel from palm oil. This fuel may add up to nine times as much carbon dioxide compared to conventional petrol and diesel, they found. The report concludes that - if reducing greenhouse gas emissions is the primary concern - then protecting and restoring natural forests is a better way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions than cutting them down for palm oil.

Study co-author Dominick Spracklen of the School of Earth and the Environment at the University of Leeds says:
This study shows that if your primary concern is reducing carbon dioxide emissions, growing biofuels is not the best way to do it. In fact it can have a perverse impact elsewhere in the world. The amount of carbon that is released when you clear forests to make way for the biofuel crop is much more than the amount you get back from growing biofuels over a 30-year period.
The relevance of this study to the biofuels debate is marginal. Especially because it could be misinterpreted as saying that we are faced with a simplistic choice: rainforests versus biofuels. Nothing is further from the truth. Studies by scientists working for the International Energy Agency's Bioenergy Task 40 have shown that billions of hectares of non-forest land are available where energy crops for biofuels with a strong GHG balance can be grown sustainably. The projections explicitly start from a scenario that does not allow deforestation (earlier post). The conservationists writing in Science do not cite these studies.

The fact is that most biofuel crops are grown on non-forest land. Sugarcane in Brazil offers the best example: the crop is grown 1000 miles South of the Amazon, and has no impact whatsoever on deforestation rates (previous post and here). Brazil even succeeds in vastly expanding its biofuels acreage while at the same time slowing down deforestation (earlier post). Likewise, most other biofuel crops, from rapeseed and corn, over jatropha and pongamia to sorghum and cassava do not grow in rainforest soils.

In several cases, biofuels even succeed in greening the desert and pushing back desertification. A good recent example comes from Inner Mongolia, where fast-rotation sand willow is pushing back the desert (earlier post). Other examples are based on jatropha, with trials in the middle of the Southern Egyptian desert (earlier post). Apparently, the authors of the article are not aware of these initiatives.

The study does not take into account the opportunity for the production of carbon-negative biofuels either. Such biofuels reduce carbon emissions more than most temperate forests, which are net contributors (here and here). Carbon-negative biofuels can be obtained either by relying on the sequestration of biochar into soils (previous post and here), or by storing the carbon into large geological sites (more here).

Ultimately, the reduction of greenhouse gases is only one of a much larger set of more important reasons behind the interest in biofuels. The green fuels offer the only realistic way to overcome high oil prices. This is especially important for developing countries, some of which are already forced to spend twice as much on importing expensive oil than on health care services. Biofuels would reduce this disastrous effect of oil. High oil prices kill people. Biofuels may save them.

Importantly, as the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation and many other think tanks and analysts have said: biofuels can help reduce poverty alleviation on a massive scale (earlier post). This could have major beneficial effects on the environment in developing countries, because poverty is the single biggest factor driving environmental destruction there. But more importanly, the biofuels opportunity can help lift millions of poor people out of misery, improve their livelihoods, and strengthen their access to food and energy. For these reasons, African scientists recently concluded that bioenergy and biofuels are key to help achieve the UN's ambitious Millennium Development Goals (previous post):
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Likewise, the UNIDO, the IEA, the EU, the Worldwatch Institute and several food research organisations stressed the same basic facts.

In short, the recuction of greenhouse gas emissions is only one reason why biofuels are receiving so much interest. Many far more important factors are at play.

The report in Science is co-authored by Renton Righelato of the World Land Trust - a charity that protects and restores threatened habitats around the world.

The study compared the amount of carbon dioxide emissions that would be saved from entering the atmosphere by growing biofuels with the amount saved from slowing deforestation and restoring forests over a 30-year period.

The study also found that converting large areas of land back to forest provides other environmental benefits such as preventing desertification and regional climate regulation. The conversion of large areas of land to make biofuels will place further strains on the environment, the study concluded.

European Union member states have pledged to replace 10% of transport fuel with biofuel from crops by 2020 in an effort to reduce reliance on imported oil and reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Meeting the EU target would require an area larger than one third of all the agricultural land in Europe to be used for growing biofuel crops.

He says: "There is a big push in the EU and US to promote biofuels as a way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. What we do here has an impact on the rest of the world. Although biofuels may look a good idea in places like Europe, they have a perverse effect when you take into the rest of the world."

Biopact does not agree with the latter statement, because the world is far bigger than the few countries that are cutting down rainforests for biofuels. There are groups of countries much larger than Europe, where biofuels can be grown without any major environmental side-effects. Countries like the Central-African Republic, South Sudan, Angola, Mozambique, Zambia, Tanzania, to name but a few. Apparently, some scientists utilize maps that do not show these countries. Or they are simply eurocentric. The amount of non-forest land available for biofuel crops, is estimated to be around 2 billion hectares.

Renton Righelato and Dominick V. Spracklen, "Carbon Mitigation by Biofuels or by Saving and Restoring Forests?", Science 17 August 2007, Vol. 317. no. 5840, p. 902, DOI: 10.1126/science.1141361

Biopact: Greening the desert with biofuels: Inner Mongolia peasants show it's possible - August 14, 2007

Biopact: Worldwatch Institute: biofuels may bring major benefits to world's rural poor - August 06, 2007

Biopact: FAO chief calls for a 'Biopact' between the North and the South - August 15, 2007

Biopact: Report: biofuels key to achieving Millennium Development Goals in Africa - August 02, 2007

Biopact: African Union, Brazil and UNIDO organise first High-Level Conference on Biofuels in Africa - July 23, 2007

Biopact: IEA chief economist: EU, US should scrap tariffs and subsidies, import biofuels from the South - March 06, 2007

Biopact: A look at Africa's biofuels potential - July 30, 2006

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

The bioeconomy at work: new PLA technology improves heat resistance of bioplastics

CSM subsidiary Purac, market leader in lactic acid production, announces [*.pdf] it will extend its portfolio with Lactides, offering bioplastics producers the technical and economical solutions that have so far restrained them from entering the Poly-Lactic Acid (PLA) bioplastics market.

Packaging suppliers are constantly on the lookout for high-quality forms of biodegradable materials, as consumers and regulatory bodies are demanding environmentally-friendly packaging. Mandates from giant supermarkets, forcing suppliers to make the switch, are also coming into effect. But current PLA-based plastics are less robust than their petroleum-based counterparts. However, new technologies are gradually changing this situation: some have found ways to embed nanoparticles into the polymer to strengthen it (previous post), whereas others have succeeded in improving properties by compounding cellulose fibers into the PLA (more here).

Purac contributes to the need for stronger PLA plastics by expanding its product portfolio with patented D(-) technology. With compounded (D- and L+) PLA polymers it becomes possible to efficiently produce bioplastics that withstand temperatures of at least 175 °C, for diverse applications such as hot-fill bottles, microwaveable trays, temperature resistant fibres, electronics and automotive parts. The previous heat resistance record for PLA-plastics stood at 150 °C, achieved by a cellulose fiber-reinforced compound (previous post).

Poly-Lactic Acid is a raw material for bio-degradable plastics, an environmentally-friendly alternative to oil-based plastics. PLA is produced from lactic acid coming from starches and sugars from crops such as such as corn, sugar beet, cassava and sugar cane.
Market growth has been hampered by the availability of economically achievable production technology. By using Lactides as a monomer for PLA production, Purac bridges the technology gap that currently restricts the plastics industry to accelerate the PLA market growth. The Lactide technology will reduce costs and investments for the bio-plastics industry and significantly contribute to the growth of the PLA market. With the new D(-) technology bioplastics producers can now produce compounds for a wide variety of new high-end applications. - Arno van de Ven, VP Chemicals and Pharma at Purac
Purac has filed several patents to protect its technologies. Together with leading plastics producers, the company is now investigating the necessary investments to be able to meet future demand. Industry experts project a steady market growth as of 2010 when products will be available in sizeable volumes:
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According to research carried out by the UK Campden and Chorleywood Food Research Association Group, the current use of sustainable packaging is limited as its barrier properties are inferior to its petroleum polymer counterparts.

The report also claims that biodegradable and compostable packaging is only environmentally friendly when industrially composted, and in the UK, for example, there are few systems available.

Companies who have invested in PLA over the last 5 years include Amcor, Toray Industries, Bebo, and US-based Naturally Iowa, while retailers like Delhaize in Belgium and Auchan in France have been testing PLA for various food packaging.

Purac, a subsidiary of CSM, produces lactic acid, lactates, gluconates, lactitol, lactides and polylactides, for the meat, bakery, confectionery, dairy, cosmetics and pharma industries.

Biopact: The bioeconomy at work: cellulose fibre-reinforced PLA bioplastic with improved heat resistance, rigidity and moldability - May 17, 2007

Biopact: Nanoparticle additive makes PLA based bioplastics stronger - July 23, 2007

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Inter-American Development Bank approves US$120 million for biofuel project in Brazil

The Board of Directors of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has approved its first private sector financing for a bioenergy project in Brazil for a total of US$120 million to Usina Moema Acúcar e Alcohol Ltda., a major sugar, ethanol and bioenergy producer based in the State of São Paulo, that is operating in one of the fastest growing industries in Brazil and worldwide.

This operation is part of IDB’s initiative to promote the structuring of senior debt financing for five Brazilian ethanol production projects that will have a total cost of US$997 million. These investments will contribute to Brazil’s goal of tripling annual ethanol production by 2020.

The IDB also supports the Brazilian government’s goal of becoming a global center of excellence for research and development in biofuels. The Bank is holding discussions with senior Brazilian officials with a view to facilitating technology transfer and technical assistance, so that other countries in the region can benefit from Brazilian know-how.

Moema operates seven sugar and ethanol plants in São Paulo state (map, click to enlarge). At the largest of its facilities, the Usina Moema, it produces around 4.5 million tons of sugar cane, 320,000 tons of sugar and 200 million liters of ethanol. Sugar cane residues (bagasse) are used to co-generate around 50GWh of renewable, carbon-neutral electricity:
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“In past years, Moema’s brisk growth was financed primarily by short- and medium-term debt,” said IDB team leader Leandro Alves. “Moema is now in the process of refinancing up to US$120 million of such debt through a financing package put together by the IDB.”

The package comprises an IDB loan of up to US$40 million from the Bank’s ordinary capital and $80 million of co-financing from commercial banks.

“The transaction will help Moema increase the average life of the debt being refinanced from approximately 10 months to 6.6 years,” explained the other IDB team leader, Sylvia Larrea. “It will therefore improve the company’s debt profile towards one more consistent with the long-term nature of its assets, enhancing the sustainability of the company,” added Larrea.

The operation will allow Moema to redirect funds currently used to service short-term debt to fund its capital investment plan, including projects to boost Moema’s production of sugar, ethanol and energy co-generation from biomass.

IDB’s private sector window serves as a catalyst, not only enabling financing in the long tenors required by the company, but also mobilizing private funds in the form of co-financings. Required implementation of IDB’s Environmental and Social Management System ensures a good management of potential environmental, social, health, safety, and labor impacts.

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Mitsubishi Corp to invest in three types of biofuels both in Japan and abroad

Japan's largest trading company Mitsubishi Corp. aims to take a slice of the growing green fuel market with a planned annual capacity of 2 billion liters (530 million gallons) of green ethanol by 2017, a senior manager tells Reuters.

The new plants will be based in Japan and other parts of Asia as well as in South America, where supply of feedstock is sustainable, competitive and ample, says Takashi Miyazaki, a general manager at Mitsubishi's renewables energy business unit.

Mitsubishi in April set up a team of 15 staff to produce and market three types of green fuel: (cellulosic) ethanol, (second-generation) green diesel and biomass fuel pellets.
  • Ethanol: In one of the first few deals, Mitsubishi this month invested 300 million yen (€1.9/$2.6 million) to take a 34-percent stake in a government-backed project to build an ethanol plant with annual output of 15 million liters on the northern island of Hokkaido. Kirin Brewery Co. Ltd., Japan's second largest brewer, is providing fermentation technology to the Hokkaido project.
  • Biodiesel: Miyazaki also said Mitsubishi plans to produce 1 to 1.5 million tonnes a year of biodiesel by 2017 after building plants in Asia or in Central and South America. The volume is compared with 5 million tonnes a year of the existing rapeseed-origin biodiesel market in Europe. Japanese household goods maker Lion Corp. will provide expertise when Mitsubishi starts its biodiesel projects. Lion has developed technology to produce methylester sulfonate, used in laundry detergents, from palm oil, a major feedstock for biodiesel in Asia.
  • Pellets: on bio-pellets used to co-fire with coal and used to reduce CO2 emissions, Mitsubishi plans for a capacity of 4 million tonnes a year by 2017, of which domestic output will be 20,000 to 30,000 tonnes. Global demand for bio-pellets made from wood waste is expected to grow to 150 million tonnes a year by 2030, up from 8 million tonnes currently, according to the company's estimate.
The company is not new to the bioenergy sector. Recently it signed a comprehensive cooperation agreement with Dynamotive, a developer of second-generation biofuels based on the pyrolysis of biomass (previous post). Mitsubishi also agreed to a 30-year ethanol supply agreement with Brazilian producer Sao Martinho (more here and here). But the Japanese trading firm now wants to go beyond trading and actively pursues a stake in the production chain:
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The production of renewable energy - biofuels, biomass, solar energy and wind energy - has become one of Mitsubishi's new focused business segments.

Analysts said investing in unconventional areas is an industry-wide trend as trading firms look for a new source of profit growth. "I think biomass energy is relatively contiguous with the company's existing business," said Ben Wetmore, senior analyst at Mizuho Securities.

Global demand for biomass ethanol is set to leap to 280 billion liters (74 billion gallons) a year by 2030, boosted by policy incentives and new technology cutting production costs, more than six times as much as the 40 billion liters (10.5 billion gallons) produced currently, according to the company's forecast.

"Manufacturing is the most profitable in this field of business as we think supplies will have to catch up with high-flying demand in the next few decades," Miyazaki said. But he declined to elaborate on details of Japan's top trading company's investment plans for renewable fuels.

"It's difficult to sum it up. We understand it takes four to five years to build a facility and five to six years to make profits out of it," he said. "Also, situations differ from one country to another," he added.

Reuters: Mitsubishi plans drive on biofuels output - August 16, 2007.

Biopact: Dynamotive and Mitsubishi Corporation sign cooperation agreement - August 02, 2007

Biopact: Sao Martinho announces 30 year ethanol export contract with the Mitsubishi - March 26, 2007

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Brazil and Benin sign biofuel cooperation agreement

More and more organisations are becoming convinced of the fact that biofuels can help lift millions of poor farmers out of poverty, boost their access to food and energy, and offer economic development and energy security. Most recently, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) called for the creation of a 'biopact' between the North and the South, saying biofuels offer a historic chance to alleviate poverty in the developing world (ealier post). Likewise, the UNIDO, the IEA, the EU, the Worldwatch Institute and several food research organisations stressed the same basic facts. Recently, African scientists concluded that bioenergy and biofuels are key to help achieve the UN's ambitious Millennium Development Goals (previous post).

One country has been promoting this vision like no other and is actively introducing its own successful biofuels model and technologies to Sub-Saharan Africa: Brazil. The country's president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has been touring both Africa and Latin America tirelessly, promoting biofuels as a tool to create a more just world, to fight climate change and to combat poverty and food insecurity. According to the president, biofuels may bring genuine sovereignty to developing nations and unite the Global South around a new energy paradigm (earlier post).

The technical potential for the sustainable production of renewable fuels in Africa and Latin America is vast, with some estimates putting it at more than 650 Exajoules for both continents, by 2050 (earlier post). Consider that the world currently consumes roughly 440EJ of energy from all sources (oil, gas, coal, nuclear).

To turn this huge technical potential into concrete opportunities, Lula has signed biofuel cooperation agreements with dozens of countries, offering technical assistance and policy advice based on Brazil's decades-long experience in the sector. The latest agreement [*Portuguese] was signed yesterday between Lula and his Beninese counterpart Thomas Boni Yayi. In a series of letters of intent both countries will strengthen cooperation in biofuel production and exchange political consultation.

Under the biofuel agreement, Brazil and Benin agree to work together to produce, use and commercialize fuels made from crops, and to offer support to each other. A team of eight Brazilian ethanol experts will establish a presence in the West-African country to help it develop a production capacity:
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The two nations will also establish a political consultation mechanism. Under the mechanism, Brazil and Benin will hold regular contacts to develop bilateral cooperation in politics, economy, society, culture, science and technology, as well as regional issues.

In his speech, President Lula said fuels like ethanol and biodiesel will give more countries the chance to become involved in energy production which serves as a tool to promote development.

President Yayi described Lula as 'a friend' of Africa and recalled the fact he had surpassed previous Brazilian leaders in the number of African countries visited. Lula has traveled to 17 nations on the continent, paying a visit to Benin in February 2006. Brazil hosts the largest black community outside of the African continent, and has deep relations with the people across the Atlantic.

On Thursday, the Beninese president will travel to Sao Paulo, where he will visit an ethanol plant and meet biofuel entrepreneurs as well as the FIESP (Federação das Indústrias do Estado de São Paulo). On Friday, he will visit Salvador, in northeastern Brazil, where there are many descendants of slaves brought from Benin during the colonial and imperial period. There he will sign a Cooperation Protocol between Salvador and Cotonou.

Agência Brazil: Presidente do Benin deve assinar protocolo de intenções na área de energias renováveis - August 15, 2007.

Biopact: Brazil in Africa: South-South cooperation on bioenergy speeding up - March 13, 2007

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Interpellets 2007: conference looks at wood pellets as an alternative to fossil fuels

There have been dramatic developments in the oil market, according to the latest Oil Market Report from the International Energy Agency (IEA). Everything is pointing to an impending supply shortage, which could lead to record prices (previous post). More efficient energy use and more renewable energies are therefore important elements for climate protection and energy security.

Biomass pellets may offer a sustainable, cost-effective and environmentally friendly alternative to the imminent shortage of fossil fuels. Heating with the biofuel is already less costly than using fuel oil. As a consequence the use of pellets is growing rapidly in the EU (overview for 2005) and international trade is growing steadily (earlier post). The 7th Pellets Industry Forum, which takes place in the International Congress Centre Stuttgart on 9th and 10th October, will explore the promising future of this biofuel as it establishes itself in an international market (conference programme). Following the Forum, the Interpellets 2007 trade fair will bring together pellet producers, traders, suppliers and service providers from Germany and abroad. The trade fair will take place from 10th to 12th October in the Neue Messe Stuttgart (New Trade Fair Centre Stuttgart).

In its latest oil market report, the International Energy Agency (IEA) warns of an oil supply shortage until 2012. The prognosis: price explosions on the oil market and greater reliance on the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). According to the IEA, the cause of this critical development is a growth in demand while supply levels remain virtually unchanged. The IEA, which has previously been cautious in its forecasts, now predicts an average annual growth in oil demand of 2.2 per cent for the next five years, which equates to approximately 96 million barrels a day. The growth in demand is particularly strong in newly industrialising countries with large populations, such as China and India. At the same time, there is a marked drop in oil supply from more accessible oil producing regions such as the North Sea. The oil supply from non-OPEC states will increase by just one per cent a year and the reliance of large consuming countries on OPEC will continue to grow. In view of these developments, it is imperative that we rethink our energy policy – towards more efficient energy use and renewable energies.

Wood pellets: a viable alternative?
The 7th Pellets Industry Forum and the Interpellets 2007 trade fair will look at how wood pellets can offer security of supply and whether they are cost-effective and environmentally friendly in terms of production and consumption.

As production expands, the price of wood pellets will come down. Already, the cost of one kilowatt hour of heating energy when using wood pellets (3.7 cents) is 35% lower than for heating oil (5.7 cents). Moreover, the burning of wood pellets in pellet heating systems is low in emissions and CO2 neutral: the values are well below the emission limits set by Germany's 1st Federal Emmission Control Ordinance. In addition, the burning of wood pellets releases precisely the same amount of CO2 that has been used in growing the wood. Thus pellets have many advantages as an alternative fuel: anyone heating with pellets is independent of the vagaries of oil and gas prices, supports the nascent bioeconomy and makes a major contribution to climate protection.

In view of the growing international fuel trade and the increasing market interest in pellet technology, it is vitally important to exchange information about current developments and technology trends:
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This exchange focuses on national and international market development as well as current and planned developments in pellet production.

For example, Finn Normann Jensen from the Austrian pelletiser manufacturer Andritz Sprout AG will be giving a lecture on “Trends in the global pelletising business” at the 7th Pellets Industry Forum. Over 400 delegates are expected to attend the 7th Pellets Industry Forum (9th/10th October, International Congress Centre Stuttgart).

The aim of the Interpellets 2007 trade fair is to encourage an international exchange of experience and serve as a platform for the European pellet sector. The pellet sector’s entire supply chain will be represented at Interpellets 2007, from manufacturers through to wholesalers, suppliers and service providers. The organiser, Solar Promotion, is expecting around 150 exhibitors and 6,000 visitors, with approximately 20 per cent coming from abroad.

Organisers and supporters of Interpellets 2007 and the 7th Pellets Industry Forum: The specialist trade fair Interpellets 2007 and the 7th Pellets Industry Forum is organised by Solar Promotion GmbH, Pforzheim. Interpellets 2007 is supported by the German Energy Pellet Association e.V. (DEPV) and the International Solar Energy Society German Section e.V. (DGS).

Interpellets: Wood pellets as an alternative to declining oil supply - August 9, 2007.

A brochure on the conference and the trade fair can be found here [*.pdf].

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Petrobras announces strategic plan for 2020, expands biofuels activities globally

Brazil's state-owned oil company Petrobras announces that its Board of Directors approved the Strategic Plan 2020 and the Business Plan 2008-2012. The business plan maintains the company's aggressive growth targets and underscores the challenges to be met in the natural gas and biofuel markets. We focus on the plans, because Petrobras is the most active and innovative player in the biofuels sector and has taken steps to bring Brazil's model to Africa. In its new business plan, biofuels and bioenergy development receives US$ 1.5 billion.

The Strategic Plan 2020, which establishes the mission, vision, strategies and corporate objectives of the company for the future, has expanded Petrobras' vision as a leader in Latin America to being one of the largest integrated energy companies in the world. The plan maintains the strategy of expanding operations in the oil, oil products, petrochemicals, gas energy, biofuels and distribution markets with profitability, social and environmental responsibility and integrated growth.

The plan also highlights the company's operational excellence in management, human resources and technology in alignment with the following strategies:
  • Exploration and Production: to grow production and oil and gas reserves sustainably, and to be recognized for excellence in E&P operations;
  • Downstream and distribution: to expand integrated operations in refining, commercialization, logistics and distribution both in Brazil and abroad with a focus on the Atlantic Basin;
  • Petrochemicals: to expand operations in petrochemicals in Brazil and South America on an integrated basis with the Petrobras Group's other businesses;
  • Gas and Energy: to develop and spearhead the Brazilian natural gas market and operate on an integrated basis in the gas and electric energy markets with a focus on South America;
  • Biofuels: to operate on a global basis in biofuels commercialization and logistics, leading the domestic production of biodiesel and expanding participation in the ethanol business.
The new plan poses fresh management challenges, including:
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  • Capital Discipline: to endeavor to achieve greater efficiency in the implementation of projects (terms and costs); Management of Inventory; Reduction in Operating and Administrative Costs and Portfolio Management;
  • Human Resources: to be an international benchmark in the energy segment, in personnel management, having its employees as its most valuable asset;
  • Social Responsibility: to be an international benchmark in social responsibility in the management of the businesses, contributing to sustainable development;
  • Climate Change: to reach levels of excellence in the energy industry with respect to greenhouse gas reductions in processes and products, contributing to the sustainability of the business and the mitigation of global climate change;
  • Technology: to be a global benchmark in technologies which contribute to the company's sustainable growth in the oil, natural gas, petrochemicals and biofuels industries.
The Business Plan 2008-2012 establishes production targets for oil and natural gas in Brazil: these will be 3,058,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boed) in 2012 and 3,455,000 boed in 2015. Petrobras aims to maintain a balance between growth in production and Brazilian refinery capacity, the target for domestic processed crude throughput in 2012 being 2,061,000 barrels per day (bpd), with a 90% participation of domestic crude.

The international targets also reflect the company's integrated growth with production estimates of 436,000 boed of oil and gas in 2012 and processed crude throughput in Petrobras' refineries in other countries amounting to 348,000 bpd.

Petrobras' total estimated output (Brazil and overseas) by 2012 has been revised to 3,494,000 barrels daily and the target for 2015 set at 4,153,000 boed.

The integration process has also been extended to petrochemicals where the company is estimating expansion in operations in Brazil and Latin America, in so doing, capturing synergies with the other businesses of the Petrobras Group.

The plan calls for investments of US$ 112.4 billion until 2012, representing an annual average of US$ 22.5 billion, being 87% (US$ 97.4 billion) in Brazil and 13% (US$ 15.0 billion) overseas. This amount represents an increase of 29% compared with the previous Plan.

The highlights of the investments in Brazil are represented by the growth in Exploration and Production (an increase of 32%), Downstream (an increase of 35%) and Petrochemicals (an increase of 30%).

The plan also places an emphasis on biofuels which will receive investments of US$ 1.5 billion.

Investments in the international operations will focus largely on the area of Exploration and Production particularly in Latin America, West Africa and the Gulf of Mexico.

The growth of investments is due to: US$ 13.3 billion in new projects, US$ 10.9 billion for the increase in costs due to increased market demand for sector equipment and services, US$ 4.2 billion due to local currency appreciation and the remainder with respect to other factors such as changes in the project scope, in the business model, etc.

The company aims to become a global company in the commercialization and logistics of biofuels, leading the domestic production of biodiesel and expanding its share of the ethanol business. In line with this strategy, H-BIO (bio-refining) will provide leverage for growth in this market.

Petrobras: bioenergy portal.

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CARE: food aid destroys local markets in Africa

Imagine the immensity of the following contradiction: a country like the Democratic Republic of Congo can produce food for an estimated 3 billion people, but today it is a net importer of food, and a large part of its 60 million inhabitants receive food aid distributed by an army of NGOs from the West. The example can be replicated across Sub-Saharan Africa.

Leading humanitarian aid organisation CARE now says part of this obscenity is the result of the way the food aid industry currently works. Food aid has become an end in itself and constitutes a form of dumping that can be extremely destructive to local agricultural markets. The food aid 'industry' has become one of the dreadful 'dependency factors' that keep Africa in eternal poverty and dictate its development (these factors include the continuing effects of colonialism, resource wars induced by the West, the presence of post-colonial political satraps, hegemonic NGOs, foreign aid, Worldbankism, and indeed, food aid).

Especially the food aid system employed by the United States is seen as counter-productive: the U.S. government buys cheap food from powerful American agribusiness, hands it out to American charities in Africa, who then get to sell it for a profit. With the profit the NGOs fund themselves. This system has become big business and ruins the chances of local farmers to compete. Some go so far as to say food aid feeds everyone, except the poor.

To make its point, CARE has decided to refuse about US$45 million a year in federal funding from the U.S., saying the system hurts the very poor people it aims to help. "If someone wants to help you, they shouldn't do it by destroying the very thing that they're trying to promote," said George Odo, a CARE official who grew disillusioned with the practice while supervising the sale of American wheat and vegetable oil that is flooding Kenya.

As the U.S. Congress considers a new farm bill, neither the Bush administration nor representatives are looking to undo the practice, known as "monetization." In fact, some nonprofit groups say it has worked well and are pressing for sharp increases in the tonnage of American food shipped for sale and distribution to support development programs.

The Christian charity World Vision and 14 other groups say that CARE is mistaken, that the system works because it keeps hard currency in poor countries, can help prevent food price spikes in them and does not hurt their farmers. But criticism of the practice is growing. And some say the NGOs who stand behind the system have become government contractors instead of organisations with a mission to help the poor.

Former President Jimmy Carter, whose Atlanta-based Carter Center uses private money to help African farmers be more productive, says a flawed food aid system has survived partly because the charities that get money from it defend it:
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Agribusiness and shipping interest groups have tremendous political clout, but charitable groups are influential, too, Carter said, because "they speak from the standpoint of angels".

"The farm bloc is powerful, but when you add these benevolent organizations, the totality of that has blocked change in the system," said Carter, who is also a Georgia farmer.

Some charities that champion monetization bristle at such suggestions. And their allies in Congress say that maritime and agribusiness interests are essential allies for programs to aid the hungry.

"Sure it's self-interest if staying in business to help the hungry is self-interested," said Avram Guroff, a senior vice president at ACDI/VOCA, which ranked sixth in monetization sales last year. "We're not lining our pockets."

But Peter Matlon, an agricultural economist based in Nairobi and a managing director of the Rockefeller Foundation, said converting American commodities into cash for development was a case of "the tail wagging the dog," with domestic farm policies in the United States shaping hunger-fighting methods abroad.

"The NGOs have been ignoring this evidence for years that there's a negative impact on the prices farmers receive," said Matlon, who is involved in a $150 million effort financed by the Rockefeller and Bill and Melinda Gates foundations to increase the productivity of African farmers.

The Government Accountability Office, the non-partisan, investigative arm of Congress, also concluded this year that the system was "inherently inefficient."

CARE and Catholic Relief - who rank first and second in money raised through monetization - say they recover only 70 to 80 percent of what the United States paid for the commodities and shipping.

But while Catholic Relief Services and Save the Children, which ranked fifth last year in such sales, agree with CARE that the system is inefficient, they also say they will not stop converting American food into money unless Congress replaces the lost revenues with cash. They help a lot of poor people with the money, they say.

The experiences of Walter Otieno, a grizzled Kenyan farmer in mud-stained pants, illustrate the paradoxes of paying for rural development through sales of American farm goods.

Over the years, he had watched four of his 12 children die of measles, which is more often fatal for the malnourished. He has had difficulty growing enough to feed his family. "My children were skinny and their skin was dull," he said.

Then last year he began growing a small patch of sunflowers on a hill sloping down to Lake Victoria with help from a program that CARE finances through the sale of American farm goods here.

A CARE extension worker, Rosemary Ogala, has taught him and dozens of farmers in his group where to buy sunflower seed, when to plant it, how to space the rows and when to harvest.

CARE has also connected them to a ready market: the Kenyan company Bidco Oil Refineries, whose managers say they could more than quintuple the amount of sunflower seed they buy from Kenyan farmers to process into vegetable oil.

The profit Otieno earned from the crop rescued his family from dire poverty. Now, with his new earnings, he plays with his sons and daughters, plump on eggs and milk, at the family's general store, a tiny shack stocked with goods financed by the sunflower sales. "Our lives have changed," he said.

The question is whether small-scale sunflower farmers like Otieno would have done better if nonprofit groups had not sold tons of American crude soybean oil, a competing product, to the same Kenyan company that purchased Otieno's meager crop. CARE and some other experts say the answer is a clear yes.

In 2003, Bidco bought almost 9,000 metric tons of crude soybean oil sold to the United States by Bunge, the agribusiness giant. Altogether that year, Bunge sold the United States 15,180 metric tons of oil for resale by the nonprofits in Kenya.

American law requires aid groups to establish that such sales will not discourage production by local farmers, but some critics say it is a conflict of interest to ask nonprofit groups to select experts to make this determination.

In this case, the nonprofit organizations hired a consultant who advised them in 2003 that they could safely sell up to 38,000 metric tons of vegetable oil in Kenya, which mostly depends on imports. That amount, about 10 percent of the country's consumption, was "negligible," he said.

But Odo of CARE disagreed, saying in a memo that "the truth is that the subsidized importation from the U.S. reduces the growth in the local market."

Ultimately, CARE's decision to phase out such sales evolved from a senior manager's change of heart. Daniel Maxwell, a professor of nutrition at Tufts University, was a food security adviser for CARE in Nairobi who saw sales of American food as an imperfect, but useful way to raise money.

He knew firsthand, however, how risky it was to manage projects financed in fluctuating commodities markets. When prices sank, CARE had too little money and was sometimes forced to lay off workers.

Maxwell also strongly suspected that buyers offered too little for the farm goods, knowing they were dealing with aid workers who were novices in commodities trading.

As he and Christopher Barrett, an agricultural economist at Cornell University, researched a book, "Food Aid After Fifty Years," his doubts deepened.

"Not only was it a pain the neck," he said, "but there were potentially serious knock on effects that would be damaging to farmers and trade."

In 2004, Maxwell and Barrett made the case against the practice at CARE headquarters in Atlanta. They recalled that the senior vice president, Patrick Carey, who has since died, cautioned them that leaving the system would be like "an act of partial suicide" for the nonprofits.

Nonetheless, by 2009 CARE will end almost all of its participation in such projects across the developing world. It will try to raise money to replace the lost revenues from philanthropies and other donors, and by making its own aid programs profitable.

One of those programs could be seen in action one recent afternoon in the Kenyan village of Poche. CARE has helped local women bypass local middlemen to sell pineapples at better prices in big supermarkets in Nairobi, 10 hours away by road.

One woman, Doreen Amimo, a 52-year-old grandmother, has seen her weekly earnings rise to $18 from $11. She can now afford to feed and clothe an orphaned niece and nephew.

"And I never lack sugar in the house," she said, "and we can have tea and milk every morning!"

These farmers are selling their fruit to a small company, Vegcare, that CARE and a Kenyan company started with an investment of $170,000 in 2005. Vegcare advises farmers on how to grow pineapples that meet supermarket standards, buys them and trucks them to a wholesaler in Nairobi that supplies Nakumatt, a Kenyan supermarket chain.

CARE's idea is that a profitable business is more likely than a charitable venture to survive when foreign aid runs out. CARE managers here say they hope its renunciation of most of the money from commodity sales will free it to candidly address the flaws in the American strategy to combat world hunger.

"What's happened to humanitarian organizations over the years is that a lot of us have become contractors on behalf of the government," said Odo of CARE. "That's sad but true. It compromised our ability to speak up when things went wrong."

Picture: American wheat flooding Mombasa, Kenya. Credit: Evelyn Hockstein for The New York Times.

International Herald Tribune: Charity finds that U.S. food aid for Africa hurts instead of helps - August 16, 2007.

New York Times: CARE Turns Down Federal Funds for Food Aid - August 16, 2007.

Time: CARE Says No Thanks to U.S. Food Aid - August 16, 2007.

Global Issues: Food Dumping [Aid] Maintains Poverty - June 25, 2005.

Christopher B. Barrett, "Food Aid: Is It Development Assistance, Trade Promotion, Both, or Neither?", American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Vol. 80, No. 3 (Aug., 1998), pp. 566-571, doi:10.2307/1244559

Jonathan Krieckhaus, Dictating Development: How Europe Shaped the Global Periphery, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2006.

Jean-François Bayart, L'Etat en Afrique, La Politique du ventre, Paris, Fayard, 1989.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Climate change and geoengineering: emulating volcanic eruption too risky

Global warming occurs when greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, build up in the atmosphere and alter outgoing longwave radiation. Scientists have proposed different 'geoengineering' options to tackle the problem, in case governments, industry and citizens do not succeed in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.

Some of the proposals include: seeding the oceans with iron to ensure that algae sequester carbon dioxide which would then drop to the bottom of the ocean (earlier post), creating artificial clouds that reflect sunlight back into the atmosphere and lead to global cooling, planting 'synthetic trees' that suck up CO2 and sequester it deeply in the ground (more here), or launching billions of tiny mirrors into space to prevent sunlight from reaching the planet.

The most controversial proposal is the suggestion that mitigating global warming could be accomplished by emulating a volcanic eruption because volcanic aerosols scatter incoming sunlight, reducing outgoing radiation. Rockets full of sulphur particles would be launched into the upper atmosphere and envelop the earth in a blanket of aerosols. (In an actual volcanic eruption, sulphur dioxide gas reacts with water vapor to form sulphuric acid droplets, which act like a mirror).

Many of these options have been dismissed by other scientists who have shown that the risks may be too great (previous post), or that the science is not sound (e.g. algae and iron seeding). Moreover, more feasible and far less risky geoengineering options exist, particularly those based on 'Bioenergy with Carbon Storage' (earlier post).

The proposal to imitate a volcanic eruption is the latest to come under scrutiny. Kevin E. Trenberth and Aiguo Dai of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder Colorado, caution against this mitigation proposal in a paper published in the latest edition of Geophysical Research Letters.

Trenberth and Dai's warning is based on their study of the effects of large volcanic eruptions on precipitation levels. In their study, they examine precipitation and streamflow records from 1950 to 2004 to document the effects of eruptions from Mexico's El Chichón (1982) and the Philippines’ Pinatubo (1991). They took changes from the El Niño-Southern Oscillation into account:
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The scientists find that, following the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, there was a substantial global decrease in precipitation over land, a record decrease in runoff and river discharge into the oceans, and widespread drying over land during the following year.

Thus, the authors conclude that major adverse effects, including drought, could arise from this type of geoengineering solutions to global warming.

: June, 1991, the cataclysmic eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines released around 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere. The explosive eruption's effects continue to this day.

Kevin E. Trenberth and Aiguo Dai, "Effects of Mount Pinatubo volcanic eruption on the hydrological cycle as an analog of geoengineering", Geophysical Research Letters Vol. 34, 2007, DOI: 10.1029/2007GL030524.

Biopact: Simulation shows geoengineering is very risky - June 05, 2007

Biopact: WWF condemns Planktos Inc. iron-seeding plan in the Galapagos - June 27, 2007

Biopact: The end of a utopian idea: iron-seeding the oceans to capture carbon won't work - April 26, 2007

Biopact: Capturing carbon with "synthetic trees" or with the real thing? - February 20, 2007

Biopact: Abrupt Climate Change and geo-engineering the planet with carbon-negative bioenergy - December 21, 2006

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Biomass 'reserve' to reduce risk of uranium shortage - perspectives from Belgium

An interesting debate on the long-term future of nuclear energy comes from Belgium, where a new government is currently being formed. Biopact is collaborating with parties there to propose a strong alternative to nuclear electricity: the creation of a (virtual) green reserve of biomass to be established in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This biomass, transformed into biofuels with a high energy density, will be imported and used in dedicated, highly efficient cogeneration plants. The plan is backed by the social-democrats and by the former chief of Greenpeace Belgium. It represents a first concrete example of a genuine 'biopact' - a win-win strategy that brings development to the South, and energy security and climate-friendly electricity to the North.

The dilemma
Belgium's previous center-left government had agreed to close down the country's 7 nuclear reactors over the coming decades. Other European countries will be doing the same, most notably Germany and Sweden. The gap would be filled up by renewables such as wind, solar, and imported biomass. Nuclear power currently provides 56% of Belgium's domestically produced electricity.

However, during the recent election campaign, the fate of Belgium's nuclear power plants took central stage again and the phase-out policy was up for discussion. The left and the greens defended the case for the end to nuclear, citing classic objections: there is no solution to the waste problem, the industry presents security risks, is responsible for nuclear proliferation, and keeping power plants open will mean investments in renewables keep getting delayed.

The center and right-wing parties were in favor of keeping the plants open because, they said, investing in renewables today would be too expensive and cannot guarantee the security of energy supplies. Moreover, keeping the existing reactors working for two more decades will bring in an estimated €8 billion - money that can be invested in renewables later on. Nuclear power from existing plants is inexpensive and cuts CO2 emissions today, so the argument went.

The right wing won the elections and during the ongoing negotiations for the formation of a new government, an agreement was reached to get rid of the phase-out plans, and to keep the bulk of the country's nuclear power plants open to 2035-2045.

However, an entirely new but simple factor has changed the equation, and may eventually lead to a victory for the left-wing after all. The problem: nuclear fuel - uranium - has become excessively expensive and long-term projections show prices may stay high over the coming decades. The fact that nuclear power makes use of a finite resource the price of which is determined by global market forces, has come to dominate the most recent discussions once again. In this context, the left wing rightly argues that sunshine and wind do not cost money. Uranium on the contrary is set to get ever more costly. Belgium now faces a dilemma.

Price explosion
For decades uranium was extremely cheap, but in recent years, prices have skyrocketed. In 2000, a pound cost US$10, in 2007 uranium costs around US$135 - an increase of 1300 percent:
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The costs of nuclear electricity are only mildly determined by the price of uranium. Fuel costs make up around 20 percent of the total costs. Compared to oil and gas power plants, operation and maintenance costs as well as the costs for the nuclear infrastructure are more important than fuel costs. According to the IEA, a doubling of the uranium price leads to an increase of 6 percent in the end price of nuclear electricity. The OECD puts the figure at 10 percent. For a coal plant, a doubling results in an increase of 40 percent, whereas for a natural gas plant, electricity becomes 75 percent more expensive each time fuel prices double.

But this doesn't make nuclear power less expensive. Oil and gas prices have increased by about 150 percent compared to 2000. This means electricity from gas today costs around 115 percent more. During the same period, uranium prices increased by 1300 percent, making nuclear electricy 78 to 130 percent more costly (depending on IEA or OECD norms).

250 new nuclear power plants
There are two main reasons for this price explosion. On the one hand there is rapidly growing demand, on the other, supplies cannot keep up. Because of the serious price increases for oil and gas and growing awareness of the need to mitigate climate change, nuclear has become an attractive option. Several countries are investing heavily in the technology. According to the World Nuclear Association, 28 new plants are currently under construction, construction plans for 64 others have been approved and another 158 are planned for the near future. The bulk of these projects can be found in China, Russia and India.

In total some 250 new plants are in the pipeline, against the 440 that currently dot the planet. When these plants come online in the next decade, demand for uranium will grow even further. Current prices already take this scenario partly into account. According to the IEA, annual demand for uranium will grow from 68,000 tons in 2005 to 100,000 tons in 2030.

On the supply side difficulties can be observed as well. Traditional uranium mines only deliver around 55 to 65 percent of all nuclear fuel. The rest is obtained from 'secondary sources', mainly from Russian (and to a lesser extent American) nuclear weapons. However, by 2015 this resource will be depleted. This means that from the second half of the next decade onwards, 100 percent of all supplies will have to come from 'virgin' uranium. And this will prove to be extremely difficult.

Last year, the IEA called for the introduction of more nuclear energy in the global electricity mix, but it added a clear precondition: massive investments are needed in uranium mines and in enrichment facilities. If these investments are not made, many of the plant reactors will simply have to lay idle, the IEA warned. During the past 20 years, mines and enrichtment plants have been plagued by underinvestments. This is rapidly changing, with all major players announcing increased investments. But projections show the pace is still too low.

According to the IEA, all existing and recently planned facilities can merely supply 65 percent of the projected demand in 2030. From 2020 onwards a physical shortage may already plague the nuclear power industry - Belgium's reactors only start their 'extra time' in that year.

Moreover, the expansion of the mining sector is not going smoothly. Last year, the vast new mine of Cameco, the world's largest, flooded. The opening of this mine, which is supposed to meet 15 percent of global demand, has been delayed by two years.

Risky gamble
Even if the traditional objections to nuclear power - the waste problem, potential nuclear disasters, the democratisation of nuclear energy and the risk of proliferation - are left out of the debate, nuclear electricity remains a questionable option.

So-called fourth-generation reactors that recycle their own waste streams, do not solve the Belgian dilemma either. Belgium's nuclear electricity is currently quite inexpensive but this is merely so because of the fact that the reactors have already been built and capital costs have been amortized. New reactors of the fourth-generation will pump up the price because of the simple fact that they still have to be build and developed. If the first of these is build in 2040, it may begin to yield affordable electricity two decades later, at the soonest.

For Belgium, the decision to keep the existing plants open comes down to a very risky gamble. The projected savings of €8 billion were based on scenarios with relatively low uranium prices. And the number is the result of a give and take calculus: €13 billion in income minus €4.4 billion in extra costs needed to keep the plants open.

If, in 2020, the reactors have to fight for uranium supplies because global production does not meet demand, then society is set to carry the costs. In such a case, the choice is narrowed down to one that nobody wants to make: either much costlier nuclear electricity, or closing down the plants alltogether with the risks of a serious energy supply gap. If, by then, Belgium has not made major efforts to invest in renewables, the country may face a true powerdown.

Green reserve
Meanwhile, Biopact has joined the left wing (the social-democrats, SP.a) to create a set of scenarios that prove biomass can replace nuclear power in a cost-effective, sustainable and efficient manner. The scenarios are based on the establishment of a virtual green reserve of biomass to be located in Africa (more particularly the Democratic Republic of Congo). The reserve is 'virtual' because of the uncertainties over uranium price trends and because of the highly complex nature of phase-out plans.

Resistance to renewables as feasible alternatives to nuclear is most often based on the fact that solar and wind power can not deliver electricity continuously. Biomass, which works in more traditional power systems, elegantly overcomes this problem.

The substance of the plan is relatively simple. Biomass grown on a mere 200,000 hectares and co-fired with coal, and later used in dedicated biomass cogeneration power plants, can replace all of Belgium's current nuclear capacity. Congo has vast potential to produce a wide range of such energy crops - grasses, trees, and more established crops - which can be grown in a highly efficient, sustainable and cost-effective manner. This biomass can be transformed into fuels with a higher energy density (e.g. bio-oil, bio-coal) and then exported to Antwerp, the port which is gradually turning itself into a 'bioport'. Analyses of the logistical chain show that transformation and transportation costs are reasonable.

Congo was selected because of Belgium's deep relations with the country, because of its vast agro-energy potential and its need for economic investments and job creation. Moreover, a major advantage is the fact that synergies can be created between local biofuel production and the projected availability of hydroelectricity. Investments are being made into Congo's Inga Dams, which can grow out to become the world's largest hydro-electric complex (44,000 MW, or roughly twice the capacity of the Three Gorges Dam).

The technical potential has been established and projections on the economics show that importing biomass from Congo on a large scale provides the least costly renewable energy option for Belgium. In a next phase, Biopact develops a set of decision sequences that will determine the most opportune moments to invest in the actual establishment of plantations, under different scenarios.

Congoforum: Wendel Trio (sp.a): "België moet in Congo in palmolie investeren" - June 8, 2007.

Wendel Trio: SP.a lanceert biomassa-actieplan voor Afrika - the Africa biomass plan at the website of the energy expert of the social-democrats. Wendel Trio is the former chief of Greenpeace Belgium.

The social-democrats and their plan to phase-out nuclear is presented at a dedicated website [*Dutch].

A good overview of the debates on nuclear power in Belgium can be found here [*Dutch].

Uranium Information Centre: Nuclear Power in Belgium - Briefing Paper # 94, June 2007 - a good overview of Belgium's capacity and policies.

For more information on Biopact's 'green reserve' studies, contact us.

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FAO chief calls for a 'Biopact' between the North and the South

Since we launched the proposition years ago of a 'Biopact' in which the wealthy North imports efficient biofuels made in the South, virtually all global policy and institutional levels, from the IEA to the EU, have picked it up. Now the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) too calls for this vision to be implemented. Without exaggeration, we can say that our small organisation has been instrumental in getting the idea across.

Writing in the Financial Times, the FAO's director-general Jacques Diouf points out that such a Biopact presents a win-win strategy that can benefit the world's poor, while solving part of the climate change problem. Because Diouf's vision is so close to ours, we reprint his essay in full:

Much of the current debate on bioenergy, focusing on negative aspects such as sharply increased food prices and erosion of biodiversity, obscures the sector's huge potential to reduce hunger and poverty, Diouf writes.

If we get it right, bioenergy provides us with a historic chance to fast-forward growth in many of the world's poorest countries, to bring about an agricultural renaissance and to supply modern energy to a third of the world's population.

However, that momentous promise can be fulfilled only if the right decisions are made now and the appropriate policies put in place. We urgently need to draw up an international bio-energy strategy. In the absence of such a plan we run the risk of producing diametrically opposite effects: deeper poverty and greater environmental damage.

Specifically, our strategy must ensure that a significant share of the multi-billion-dollar-a-year bioenergy market is produced by farmers and rural labourers in the developing world, the people who make up 70 per cent of the world's poor.

It should include a set of policies promoting access by the rural poor to an international bioenergy market. First, it will require the lowering of trade barriers operated by some Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries against ethanol imports.

Second, we need to ensure that smallholder farmers can organise themselves to produce, process and market bioenergy feedstock on the scale required. In practice this means making credit and micro-credit available to them, and helping them to form co-operatives.

Third, it will require a certification system to ensure that bioenergy products can be traded only if they meet requisite environmental standards. Such a system would encourage production by smallholders, who typically operate complex, bio-diverse production systems, as opposed to the monocropping practised on large, industrial-scale estates.

Such measures would allow developing countries - which generally have ecosystems and climates more suited to biomass production than industrialised nations, and often have ample reserves of land and labour - to use their comparative advantage:
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But as things now stand, the International Energy Agency (IEA) projects that in 2030, biofuels will provide between 4 per cent and 7 per cent of all fuels used for transport, with the US, the European Union and Brazil remaining the leading producers and consumers. If that proves correct, it will mean that we had a chance to honour all our solemn pledges to banish hunger and poverty but chose to look the other way.

So far the debate on biofuels has focused almost exclusively on substituting for fossil oil in transport. But at present biofuels for transport account for less than 1 per cent of global energy production. A far greater part of the world's energy, 10 per cent, is supplied by "traditional bioenergy" - firewood, charcoal, manure and crop residues - which warms homes and fuels cooking fires in much of the developing world.

To focus debate exclusively on bio-fuels for transport is therefore to miss much of the point about bioenergy's potential for poverty reduction. This lies more in helping 2bn people to produce their own electricity and other energy needs than in keeping 800m cars and trucks on the road.

Electricity is what powers development: you cannot run computer networks on dried cow dung. But with modern technology you can process the dung into bio-gas. Helping 2bn people living on less than two dollars a day switch to affordable, homegrown, environmentally sustainable bio-power would represent a quantum leap in their development.

Promoting such a change is all the more urgent because the 300 per cent increase in oil prices registered over the past few years is imposing a crippling burden on the economies of the world's poorest nations.

These issues need to be tackled urgently to avoid damage now. Our objective should be a high-level meeting by next summer at the latest to agree the ground rules for an inter-national bioenergy market. This is to ensure that bioenergy realises its potential to fuel sustainable growth and progress as well as to prevent it enriching the already rich, further impoverishing the chronically poor and inflicting greater damage on our increasingly fragile environment.

The writer is director-general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation

Financial Times: Biofuels should benefit the poor, not the rich [subscription req'd] - August 15, 2007.

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Plastic membrane to bring down cost of carbon capture

Coal-fired power stations are acknowledged as major contributors to global carbon dioxide emissions. Research efforts and investments are underway aimed at developing techniques to reduce these emissions by capturing the carbon before it enters the atmosphere and sequestering it. However, such carbon capture and storage (CCS) systems are in an experimental stage and several hurdles remain. Capturing the CO2 is expensive and there are concerns about the safety of storing the gas in sites such as depleted oil and gas fields or saline aquifers. One of these problems has now been tackled by Australian PhD researcher Julianna Franco, who developed a cost-effective CO2 capture system based on the use of inexpensive plastic.

CCS systems can be applied to the use of biofuels in which case the energy generated in a power plant becomes carbon-negative. Contrary to quasi 'carbon-neutral' energy technologies (such as wind, solar or nuclear) which merely prevent the addition of new greenhouse gases in the future, Bio-energy with Carbon Storage (BECS) actually takes emissions of the past out of the atmosphere. It is because of this potential that we track developments in CCS technologies. Moreover, by testing CCS with biofuels instead of fossil fuels, risks can be reduced (previous post).

Several techniques currently exist to capture carbon dioxide. Broadly speaking, two categories can be distinguished: either the CO2 is captured before the fuel is combusted (pre-combustion capture), as would be the case in CO2 separation from biogas and in systems that first convert fuel into a synthesis gas; or the CO2 is captured from flue gas after the fuel has been used (post-combustion capture). Within the latter category several options are available, such as absorption with solvents, calcium cycle separation, cryogenic separation, membrane separation or adsorption by the fixation of CO2 molecules on a surface. Most of these are currently too expensive to make CCS systems commercially feasible.

The latest edition of Ecos Magazine, Australia´s most authoritative magazine on sustainability in the environment, industry and community published by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) reports [*.pdf] that University of Melbourne doctoral student Julianna Franco has developed a CO2 separation membrane made from inexpensive polypropylene. The development is set to bring down the costs of CO2 capture.

The plastic membrane can replace proposed CO2 capture systems based on expensive membrane materials such as Teflon. In this membrane gas absorption (MGA) system, the porous plastic acts as a semipermeable barrier, allowing CO2 gas on one side to come into direct contact with an aqueous solvent on the other, without the gas or liquid dispersing into each other:
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MGAs are commonly used to remove gases from, or dissolve them into, water. For an MGA to be effective, however, the membrane must be water-repellent on one side to prevent the water from passing through the pores into the gaseous side of the membrane.

According to Franco’s supervisor, Professor Geoff Stevens, past research on the use of polypropylene as a membrane for CO2 capture concluded that it was unsuitable for MGA use. The plastic’s pores were observed to ‘wet’ in the presence of the aqueous solvent used to absorb CO2 from the gaseous phase, allowing the two phases to mix.

However, Franco has now modified the surface properties of the polypropylene to make it as water-repellent as Teflon. This allows the CO2 to selectively pass through the membrane and be absorbed on the other side by a widely available solvent (20–30% methylethanolamine dissolved in water).

The membrane can be deployed in the form of hollow fibre units that provide an order of magnitude more surface area than those available in conventional CO2 capture columns. ‘MGA units can separate carbon dioxide using three to four times less space than processing towers, making carbon dioxide capture more efficient and economical,’ says Franco.

Franco’s research follows on from earlier research that resulted in the construction of a pilot-scale membrane gas absorption plant – incorporating Teflon as the membrane material – for separation of CO2 from natural gas at Kårstø, Norway.

Australia, too, has natural gas reserves with high CO2 levels, such as those at the Gorgon gas field on the north-west coast of Australia. According to Stevens, a polypropylene MGA system would make new natural gas fields with high CO2 content more economically – and environmentally – viable.

Global interest in this research is demonstrated by the list of universities collaborating with the University of Melbourne: Canada’s Regina University, the University of Trondheim, Twente University in the Netherlands, and the University of Texas.

However, it’s still early days. Stevens says the polypropylene carbon capture system is due to be tested next year at a pilot plant that will process 25 tonnes of CO2 per day.

The pilot plant is being built at Hazelwood, one of Victoria’s oldest – and its most greenhouse-polluting – brown coal-fired power stations. The trial is being funded by the Australian and Victorian Governments.

Depending on the outcome of that trial – in particular, how the economics of this technology stack up against competing technologies – the most optimistic date for the full deployment of commercialscale carbon dioxide capture systems in Australia is 2015, although other sources put the date at 2020.

Photo: Researcher Julianna Franco working on a laboratory scale membrane-gas absorption unit for the separation of CO2 at the University of Melbourne. Courtesy: Cooperative Research Centre for Greenhouse Gas Technologies.

Mary-Lou Considine: "Plastic membrane to bring down the cost of CO2 capture", ECOS Magazine, Issue 137, June-July 2007, pp. 32-32

Julianna Franco, Sandra Kentish, Jilska Perera, Geoff Stevens, "A Solution to Climate Change?" Chemistry in Australia, Issue 4, (2005), page 8–10.

Julianna Franco, Jilska Perera, Geoff Stevens, Sandra Kentish, "Membrane Gas Absorption using a Chemically Modified Polypropylene Membrane" [*.pdf/abstract], The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia, The Cooperative Research Centre for Greenhouse Gas Technologies, Proceedings for the 8th International Conference on Greenhouse Gas Control Technology (GHGT-8), Trondheim, Norway, 19–22 June 2006.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

SunEthanol secures funding for cellulosic ethanol technology based on 'Q Microbe'

SunEthanol Inc., a biofuels technology company, announced today that it has secured funding to commercialize the 'Q Microbe' (Clostridium phytofermentans), a unique natural bacteria capable of converting cellulose into ethanol. Series A financing for developing patent-pending cellulosic ethanol technology around the Q microbe has been provided by VeraSun Energy, Battery Ventures, Long River Ventures and AST Capital. SunEthanol’s Q Microbe technology, licensed from the University of Massachusetts, has the potential to make the production of ethanol from cellulose economically competitive.

SunEthanol’s Q Microbe and the cellulase enzyme it produces (image, click to enlarge) represents true consolidated bio-processing (CBP), a technology that consolidates multiple steps into a single efficient and natural process, potentially resulting in a lower cost of production and the ability to convert various forms of biomass into ethanol.

The microorganism was discovered by University of Massachusetts professor of microbiology, Dr. Susan Leschine in the soil of New England, near the Quabbin Reservoir, and is being developed for cellulosic ethanol production by Dr. Leschine and the SunEthanol lab team. Dr. Leschine serves as a senior advisor to SunEthanol. The team believes that the Q Microbe’s CBP process can be used with a wide variety of plentiful biomass feedstocks including: switchgrass, corn stover, wheat straw, sugar cane bagasse, and wood pulp. It can potentially be used in all parts of the world where biomass is plentiful.
University of Massachusetts faculty are among the most talented researchers in the world. We work hard to engender an academic environment that helps professors convert revolutionary discoveries to solutions to real-world problems and bring them to market. Spinning off new companies like SunEthanol is a win-win for the University and our state and nation’s economy—our professors and students are involved in basic and translational research that allows the University to foster new technologies, new companies and new jobs. - Jack M. Wilson, president of the University of Massachusetts.
Converting cellulose to ethanol is currently a complex, multi-step process. Cellulosic biomass - plant matter - is an abundant, low-cost source of stored energy. However, unlocking that embodied energy has presented a challenge. Cellulosic biomass is composed of highly ordered sugar polymers, which are shielded from enzyme attack by a matrix of other complex polymers. This makes biomass very difficult to break down into its constituent sugars, in order to ferment these sugars into ethanol:
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Typically, cellulosic biomass must go through an intensive pretreatment step, after which enzymes are used to break down the biomass into simple sugars suitable for fermentation by yeast into ethanol. Enzymes, along with the intensive pretreatment required for their use, are the largest single cost component of cellulosic ethanol production. SunEthanol's technology eliminates the need for a separate enzymatic conversion step, and broadens pretreatment options.

SunEthanol's proprietary catalyst offers other potential advantages. It can process an unusually diverse range of biomass feedstocks. It is also able to ferment all fermentable components of biomass (both C5 and C6 sugars, as well as other saccharides and polysaccharides), and ethanol is its primary product.
The development of a CBP solution has long been the goal of the biofuels industry, and SunEthanol has proven that their microbiological process has unique capabilities to meet the industry’s objectives. This funding will give them the support needed to increase the performance and scale of their technology as they work toward bringing it to market. - Jason Matlof, partner at Battery Ventures.
SunEthanol is a biofuels technology company that is commercializing the Q Microbe, a proprietary cellulosic ethanol production technology. SunEthanol’s consolidated bio-processing (CBP) microbe technology is expected to consolidate multiple steps into one efficient and naturally-occurring process, potentially resulting in a lower cost of production and the ability to convert various forms of biomass into ethanol. SunEthanol's patent-pending technology was developed by Dr. Susan Leschine and her team of research scientists at UMass. The company is backed by VeraSun Energy, Battery Ventures, Long River Ventures and AST Capital.

Since 1983, Battery Ventures has been investing in technology and innovation worldwide. The firm partners with entrepreneurs and management teams across technology sectors, geographies and stages of a company’s life, from start-up and expansion financing, to growth equity and buyouts.

Battery has supported many breakthrough companies around the world, including: Airespace (acquired by Cisco), Akamai Technologies, Cbeyond, LIFFE (acquired by EuroNext), and Neoteris (acquired by Netscreen). Its current portfolio includes emerging firms such as Advent Solar, BladeLogic, Freshpoint, Lion Cells, NanoConduction and Netezza, as well as more established companies such as ITA Software, Consona Corporation, MetroPCS and Nova Analytics. From offices in Boston, Silicon Valley and Israel, Battery manages nearly $3 billion in committed capital, including its current fund of $750 million.

Long River Ventures is an early stage venture capital firm based in central and western Massachusetts. The firm invests in a mix of seed, start-up, and more advanced early stage companies, typically with revenues under $5MM per year. Long River focuses on identifying promising opportunities and entrepreneurs in the emerging technology and life science centers of New England outside of the traditional Boston and New York metro regions.

VeraSun Energy Corporation, headquartered in Brookings, South Dakota, is committed to be a leading producer of renewable fuel. The Company has three operating ethanol production facilities located in Aurora, SD, Fort Dodge, IA, and Charles City, IA, with three facilities under construction in Hartley, IA, Welcome, MN and Reynolds, IN. VeraSun is in the process of acquiring another three biorefineries currently under construction in Albion, NE, Bloomingburg, OH and Linden, IN. Upon completion of the new facilities and those being acquired, VeraSun will have an annual production capacity of approximately one billion gallons by the end of 2008. The Company also has plans to extract oil from dried distillers grains, a co-product of the ethanol process, for use in biodiesel production.

The Company markets E85, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline for use in Flexible Fuel Vehicles (FFVs), directly to fuel retailers under the brand VE85TM. VE85TM, the first-ever branded E85, is now available at more than 90 retail locations.

Image: A current research thrust of Dr. Leschine's laboratory is aimed at experimentally manipulating fermentation product formation by culturing microbes under conditions that promote the development of substrate-attached cellulose-decomposing communities known as “biofilms.” Surprisingly little is known about biofilm formation on cellulose, especially considering that biofilm production may dramatically affect cellulose decomposition. Presently, her team is focusing on Clostridium phytofermentans, a cellulose-fermenting microbe that produces H2 and exceptionally large amounts of ethanol. The image shows scanning electron micrographs of a C. phytofermentans biofilm on dialysis tubing (“regenerated cellulose”). A. Low magnification view of the biofilm showing cell aggregates on the surface of shredded dialysis tubing. B. Magnified section of biofilm showing individual cells embedded in a stringy extracellular matrix. Credit: Susan B. Leschine.

SunEthanol: bioprocessing technology.

Massachusetts Technology Transfer Center: Fuels from Biomass: Consolidated Bioprocessing of Biomass to Ethanol by Clostridium phytofermentans.

A. Warnick Thomas, A. Methe Barbara and B. Leschine Susan, "Clostridium phytofermentans sp. nov., a cellulolytic mesophile from forest soil" [*abstract], International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology, Vol 52, 1155-1160, 2002.

Susan B. Leschine: Microbial Physiology and Diversity: Cellulose and Chitin Decomposition, Biofilms on Natural Polymers, Fuels from Biomass, dept. of microbiology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

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Greening the desert with biofuels: Inner Mongolia peasants show it's possible

Greening the desert by planting biofuel crops and making a profit from it? Yes, it is possible. Many energy crops have the capacity to fight major environmental problems like erosion, soil nutrient depletion or desertification. Biofuel crops can restore and revitalize entire ecosystems (earlier post). An excellent example comes from China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region, where poor peasants are pushing back desertification by planting a drought-tolerant shrub that is being used for the production of timber and bioenergy. The effort provides livelihoods, brings wealth to the poor, and ensures local access to energy.

Besides the farmers' own initiatives, the Chinese government has also developed an 'integrated sand-fixation technology' that makes it possible to grow more crops in the desert to halt its merciless progression.

The Worldwatch Institute's 'China Watch' reports that every year, gusting winds from Inner Mongolia’s sprawling desert — a 150,000-square-kilometer area the size of Greece — threaten China’s capital Beijing with damaging sandstorms. Inner Mongolia is also one of the country’s most impoverished areas. But these days, local peasants are benefiting from the region’s challenging environment.

In the early 1990s, to bridle the wind and prevent the sand from drifting, the city government called for the planting of sand willows (Salix psammophila). The desert greened for the first time. More importantly, local residents quickly discovered other uses for the bushes, such as making packaging planks. They established several local plank processing factories.

The sand willow has a fast growth cycle. It matures in three years and regrows quickly when cut, making it a high-yielding and cheap source for the planks. As market demand for the planks rises, many firms are now buying sand willow timber from villagers at a price of 240 RMB (roughly US$30) a ton.

Because local residents can earn money from it, they have begun planting more sand willows. In Pojianghai Village, plantations of the bushes are expanding quickly over the vast desert. Within 100 square kilometers of plank factories, sand willows have become the major income source for many peasants, and some households make as much as US$4,000 a year from them. This makes local pockets bulge, and has intensified the bridling of drifting sands.

Biomass plant brings wealth
Others have discovered new energy sources from the multi-use bushes. Li Jinglu, a businessman from Beijing, found out that the heat generated from burning sand willows is equivalent to that from burning coal.

In early 2007, the first desert biomass thermal power plant was constructed near to an existing methanol chemical plant, two kilometers away. The power plant uses the waste water from the methanol plant, and the biomass residue can be further processed into potassium fertilizer. The power plant is slated to begin operation early next year and will generate some 180–210 million kwh of electricity annually, according to Li.

Wulan Dalai, who lives in the Mu Us Desert, is the first resident to provide raw materials to the biomass plant. Last October, before the construction of the plant, he signed a contract with the investor, leasing out 3,500 mu (roughly 233 hectares) of his land for sand willow plantations. He will receive 20,000 RMB (US$2,500) a year in land rent alone:
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The invisible hand of the market is bringing new hope to Inner Mongolia’s expanding desert. In the past, the local government had to hire people to plant trees to hold back the drifting sands, and the trees seldom survived. Today, seeing the returns on sand willows, local villagers are treating their bushes like their babies.

So far, more than 1,300 households in the province have treated over 1,000 mu (67 hectares) of deserts. Residents are not only benefiting from the market, but they have also found an effective way to save the ecosystem.

Integrated Sand-fixation Technology
In 2005, the Institute of Plasma Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences developed an integrated "Sand-fixation Technology of an Integration of Ion Beam Vegetation Improvement and New Materials", which passed appraisal by an expert team. The appraising team was made up of sand control experts from Grassland Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences of Inner Mongolia and members of a special topic expert team.

The appraisal concluded that the new technology to fix sand by the comprehensive integration of plants, microorganisms and ion beam improvement has evolved from the study of the compatibility of biological groups and their interaction with the environment to a study that has improved the micro-ecosystem of the rhizosphere of sand-binding plants by using such new materials as water-absorbing resin and rare earth.

This research topic studied the "micro-environment cultivation technology system" for licorice root and the "technology system of planting dryland willow and sand willow stems for thermal-radiation prevention and moisture-preserving cultivation", which has brought about the advanced technology system that can protect and promote the growth of plants in the desert.

Two years of application test in Kubuqi Desert has proved that this technology can increase the plant survival rate of licorice root, dryland willow and sand willow trees. It is both reliable and practicable, very suitable for re-vegetation in the desert and sandy land.

In a word, this research has put forward a new concept and new method for fixing and controlling sand. This technology is innovative in theory and has very good prospects in future application. So far there has been no document reporting this integrated technology system and this research is of advanced international standard.

China is a world leader in the fight against desertification. The PRC's recently announced forest bioenergy program is integrated with these efforts (earlier post).

WorldWatch Institute: Residents of Inner Mongolia Find New Hope in the Desert - August 14, 2007.

Ministry of Science and Technology of the PRC: "Integrated Sand-fixation Technology" Passed Appraisal - October 2005.

Biopact: China to boost forest-based bioenergy, helps win battle against desertification - July 17, 2007

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Impact assessment of EU's 2020 biofuels target on agricultural markets

Earlier this year, the European Commission's Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development published an impact assessment [*.pdf] of the 10 percent biofuel obligation by 2020 on agricultural markets. Its main conclusions: the targets can be achieved by second generation technologies and imports, grain prices would not increase in any substantial way, and agricultural markets are expected to remain stable over the long run. The Commission's projections are based on the assumption that 30% of the biofuels will come from second-generation fuels, whereas 20% would be imported.

Note that the report was published before the landmark International Biofuels Conference, where international trade and imports received more attention and backing (earlier post).

Development of biodiesel and ethanol demand and the incorporation rate until 2020 in the EU-27
According to analyses of DG Transport and Energy (TREN) the current biofuels directive (EC 2003/30) promoting 5.75 percent biofuel by 2010 would not reach the target, because the markets and technologies don’t have enough time to react. However, over the longer run achievement of 6.9 percent could be expected by 2020. The new biofuel legislation, which promotes 10 percent biofuel by 2020, would therefore increase biofuel demand by 3.1 percent and it would also lead to a more evenly spread consumption pattern across the EU.

The Commission believes the biodiesel industry is very well developed and would continue its development over the next few years despite some recent readjustments of taxation of biofuels in some Member States. Increased availability of second generation Biomass-to-liquid (BLT) technology at an industrial scale is expected to boost developments in the biodiesel sector from 2014 onwards.

Feedstock composition for biodiesel and ethanol by 2020
The Commission expects a similar take off by second generation technologies in the bioethanol industry. However, the build up of first generation bioethanol capacities is expected to kick in from 2007 onwards and is assumed to gain pace from 2011-2013.

By 2013 the Commission expects an incorporation rate of 5.5 percent could be reached if Member States stringently aim at meeting the 10 percent objective in 2020. The impact on land use in the EU is expected to be relatively modest. Production from about 15 percent of arable land would be used. The total land used for first and second generation biofuel production would then be 17.5 million ha in 2020. Imports are expected to provide around 20 percent of the biofuel production:
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Under the 10 percent obligation, about 59 million tons of cereals, or 18 percent of domestic use, is expected to be used as first-, and including straw, also as second-generation biofuels. Most of the cereals used would be soft wheat and corn.

Grain, oilseed and vegetable oil markets in 2020 under the 10% target
The Commission expects that this would be provided by a yield increase of about 1 percent per year, which would lead to 38 million tons more cereals in 2020, and another 14 million tons could be grown on set aside land, if the set aside scheme lasts. Domestic use of cereals is expected to increase significantly while exports will decrease. Cereal prices would appear stable and reach €120/ton in real terms or €150/ton in nominal terms. The long run impact of biofuels on cereal prices is expected to be in the range of 3-6 percent as compared to 2006 prices. The second generation biofuel production would reach about a third of the domestic biofuels production, largely by incorporating the straw and wood based cellulosic material into production. About 1.75 million tons of oil equivalent (mtoe) wood based material is expected to be imported.

The oilseed markets is expected to be affected more strongly, particularly the sunflower seed market which is expected to see significant increases of prices, up by 15 percent, because of the limited global production potential. The rapeseed prices are expected to be kept on moderate levels, up by 8-10 percent, by the developing production in Russia and the Ukraine. Soybean oil prices are expected to increase significantly due to the development of biodiesel industries around the world, mainly in Brazil and in the United States.

The Commission sees the bioenergy production as one of the major main stream opportunities for agriculture over the medium and long term. The analysis assumes a contribution of 30 percent of second generation biofuel in 2020.

Land-use by 2020 under the 10% biofuel target
In conclusion the Commission considers the 10 percent obligation does not overly stretch the land availability or lead to a significant increase of intensities of production because of the limited pressure on markets.

The long term and relatively small increase in feed use expected in the EU over that time would leave enough possibilities for European farmers to support this new market outlet without a danger of returning to fertilizer and pesticide input patterns seen until the late 1980’s. Farm employment is also expected to decline less than without biofuels, and additional jobs are expected to be created in the downstream activities and processing of biofuel.

European Commission, Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development, Directorate G. Economic analysis, perspectives and evaluations, G.2. Economic analysis of EU agriculture: The impact of a minimum 10% obligation for biofuel use in the EU-27 in 2020 on agricultural markets - Impact assessment Renewable Energy Roadmap [*.pdf], March 2007

Biopact: Highlights from the International Conference on Biofuels (Day 1) -July 05, 2007

Biopact: Sweden calls for the creation of a 'biopact' with the South - Highlights from the International Conference on Biofuels (Day 1, part 2) - July 05, 2007

Biopact: How Brazil convinced the EU on biofuels - Lula's speech - July 06, 2007

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Japan's RITE develops cellulosic biobutanol technology

Japan's government-affiliated Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth (RITE) has developed technology for the production of cellulosic biobutanol from materials such as grass cuttings and wood chips. The fuel can be blended with diesel.

Although similar technology exists for ethanol fuel for gasoline cars, this is said to be a world first for diesel vehicles.

RITE is aiming for commercial production in three years. The institute was established in 1990 by the government and leading Japanese automotive and energy firms.

The biobutanol fuel in question is obtained by converting biomass via genetically modified microorganisms. The butanol was created by cultivating a large number of these microbes in a vat and adding sugar produced by breaking down such plant fibers as grass and tree cuttings, wood and rice straw.

Light oil is generally used in diesel fuel. But in testing commissioned by RITE, Honda Motor Co. (7267.TO) subsidiary Honda R&D Co. confirmed negligible effects on vehicle performance when biobutanol was mixed with light oil:
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RITE sees the biofuel as key to cutting greenhouse gases emitted from diesel vehicles. Once mass production begins, the fuel is seen costing almost the same to produce as bioethanol for gasoline-powered cars.

Demand for biofuels made from plants is expected to grow because they help curb carbon dioxide emissions. But to date, first-generation biodiesel fuels have been made from food-grade vegetable oils.

Large industrial and research organisations have been working to develop technologies for the conversion of cellulosic biomass. Players working on butanol are, besides RITE, BP Plc (BP) of the UK, DuPont Co. of the US (earlier post). RITE has already applied for an international patent on the technology.

Earlier, RITE and Honda joined efforts to develop cellulosic biomass.

Automotive world: Japan: New technology generates biodiesel from grass cuttings and wood chips - August 14, 2007.

RITE: RITE and Honda Jointly Develop New Technology to Produce Ethanol From Cellulosic Biomass [*.pdf] - Sept. 14, 2007.

Biopact: Scientists develop biobutanol from wheat straw - June 26, 2007

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Deforestation rate in Amazon decreased by 25% between 2005 and 2006

In what is seen as a major success for Brazil's president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, new figures show that the deforestation rate in the Amazon has decreased by 25 percent between August 2005 and July 2006, despite high commodity prices and rapidly growing demand for crops like soybeans. The data [*.pdf/Portuguese] released by the Ministry of the Environment show that the deforestation rate has reached the lowest level since at least the year 2000. It is the second consecutive decrease measured since President Lula's new comprehensive policies were enforced, indicating a historic trend reversal.

The reduction could be observed across all territories and administrative divisions: in seven out of the nine tropical rainforest states, in the 'Federal Conservation Units' ('unidades de conservação' - UCs), in the peri-urban zones as well as in the Indigenous Territories.

President Lula welcomed the figures and said the decrease had prevented the release of millions of tonnes of CO2 gas into the atmosphere. The Brazilian government says environmental policies, including measures against illegal logging, have had a clear effect. The president stressed that strong policies make sustainable development more than an empty word:
I'm convinced that it's possible to have growth while preserving the environment. The challenge that we have overcome is knowing how to use the jungle and how to preserve the environment while allowing people's lives to be improved.
"We are gradually going back to the situation of the 1970s", said the minister of the Environment, Marina Silva, referring to a period when the forest suffered little pressures.
Three thematic lines have been essential for achieving this success: a rural and territorial land-use policy, a monitoring and environmental control system and the promotion of sustainable agricultural activities. Brazil is perhaps the only country in the world that is implementing a consistent and comprehensive plan that allows for both the protection and preservation of the rich biodiversity of the Amazon, while at the same time quickly and substantially reducing its contributions to climate change. - Dilma Rousseff, chief of staff of the president
The latest estimate is the result of Brazil's Real Time Deforestation Detection System. The data were announced last friday, in Brasilia, at a press conference attended by the minister of the Environment, Marina Silva, of Agrarian Development, Guillermo Cassel, of Agriculture, Reinhold Stephanes and by Dilma Rousseff, the president's chief of staff.

The results
This is the second fall in the deforestation rate since March 2004, when the Plan for Prevention and Control of Deforestation in Amazônia (PPCDA) was launched by president Lula. This integrated plan combines different technologies (earth monitoring), policies and enforcement instruments. The accounting is a undertaken in an inter-ministerial manner, with 13 ministries cooperating.

Since 2004, the deforestation rate has fallen by 49%. In 2004-2005, the area deforested in the Amazon region was 18,793 square kilometres; fallling back in 2005-2006 to 14,039 square kilometres. Of the nine states that make up the Amazon region, seven have witnessed a reduction against last year (table, click to enlarge):
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Pará was the state that had greatest area deforested in the period and showed the lightest decrease. To be precise, the paraense territory registered a fall of 4,48% of the rate in relation the 2005. In 2006, the total deforested area in Pará was 5,005 square kilometres.

The Mato Grosso witnessed a fall of 39,36%, with the largest reduction in absolute terms: 7,145 square kilometres were registered in 2005 against 4,333 square kilometres in 2006.

The city that registered the biggest growth in the deforestation indices was New Repartimento, in Pará state: the total deforested area grew by 214 square kilometres, in 2005, and by 446 square kilometres in 2006.

On the other hand, the city of São Félix de Xingu, also in Pará - which represented the city with the largest deforested area in 2005, with 1,406 square kilometres and which was the object of intense fiscalization on the part of the Ibama [Environmental Protection Agency] and the Federal Police -, registered the biggest fall in 2006, with only 764 square kilometres deforested.

In the 'Federal Conservation Units' ('unidades de conservação' - UCs), the variation in the fall of the deforestation rate was 56%. In 2005, the total of deforested area was in 689 square kilometres; in 2006, the total deforested area in the UCs was 306 square kilometres.

These data show that the creation of UCs, one of the main politics of the Ministry for the Environment, has been crucial in the fight against deforestation.

In the same way, the evolution of the deforestation rates in the Indigenous Territories showed a decrease, passing from of 441 square kilometres, in 2005, to 190 square kilometres, in 2006. In the nestings, also km² for 2.054 had fall in the deforested area of 4.406 km².

Measuring, monitoring and intervening
The director of the National Institute of Space Research, Gilbert Chamber, presented the two systems currently implemented by the INPE: "the PRODES calculates the consolidated annual rate of deforestation of the Amazônia; DETER gives estimates on large deforested tracts areas of the Amazônia with the biggest possible rapidity".

On the ground the Brazilian government stepped up its interventions in the Amazon region by means of command and control actions to combat the illegal trade in tropical timber as well as by implementing fiscal policies. The Federal Police carried out 20 large operations, 14 of which occured in the Amazon region; the IBAMA ('Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente e dos Recursos Naturais Renováveis', the enforcement arm of the Ministry of the Environment) carried out 446 operations of integrated fiscalization, which have become routine by now.

About 600 people have been arrested, 115 of them because of the work of the IBAMA. In total around 1 million of cubic meters of wood have been confiscated - an amount that would occupy 40,000 fully loaded trucks and that would form an uninterrupted chain of trucks from Rio De Janeiro to São Paulo, or 480 kilometres.

Moreover, 3.3 billion reais (€1.246/US$1.695 billion) in fines have been handed out.

Agricultural land enforcement actions allowed the creation of 20 million hectares of protected areas - which corresponds to four times the size of the state of Rio De Janeiro - and the homologation of about 10 million hectares of indigenous lands was carried out.

"All this indicates that, with planning and integrated efforts, it is possible, indeed, to change the picture", summarized Marina silva. She concluded : "We want to share this victory with all the Brazilian people".

Ministério do Meio Ambiente: Taxa de desmatamento na Amazônia cai 25% - August 10, 2007

Grupo Permanente de Trabalho Interministerial sobre Desmatamento na Amazônia Decreto de 3 de julho de 2003: Resultados PRODES ago/05 a jul/06, Projeção DETER ago/06 a jul/07 [*.pdf].

Biopact: Brazil demonstrating that reducing tropical deforestation is possible while expanding biofuels - May 16, 2007

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USDA forecasts biggest corn crop ever for 2007

U.S. farmers are expected to produce the largest corn crop in America's history in 2007, according to the Crop Production report released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). Corn production is forecast at 13.1 billion bushels (331.5 million tons), 10.6 percent above the previous record of 11.8 billion bushels set in 2004.

Based on conditions as of August 1, corn yields are expected to average 152.8 bushels per acre (9.59 ton per hectare), up 3.7 bushels (230kg) from last year. This would be the second highest corn yield on record, behind the 160.4 bushels per acre produced in 2004. Growers are expected to harvest 85.4 million acres (34.5 million hectares) of corn for grain, the most since 1933 and 14.8 million more acres than last year.

Table 1 (yields and production) and 2 (hectarage) offer a summary of the numbers for basic crops grown in the U.S., in metric units.
Yield forecasts for corn are higher than last year across the Great Plains, central Corn Belt and Delta. Meanwhile, hot, dry conditions led to lower expected yields across much of the northern and eastern Corn Belt, Ohio Valley, Tennessee Valley, Southeast and Atlantic Coast:
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NASS forecasts 2007 soybean production at 2.63 billion bushels, down 18 percent from last year’s record high of 3.19 billion bushels. Yields are expected to average 41.5 bushels per acre, down 1.2 bushels from last year.

All cotton production is estimated at 17.3 million 480-pound bales, down 20 percent from last year’s 21.6 million bales. Yield is expected to average 783 pounds per harvested acre, down 31 pounds from 2006.

All wheat production, at 2.11 billion bushels, is up 17 percent from 2006, with yield forecast at 40.6 bushels per acre, up 1.9 bushels from last year.

NASS’s crop production forecasts are based on both farm operator surveys and actual field counts conducted among a statistically selected sample between July 23 and August 6.

USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service: Crop Production - August 10, 2007.

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POSCO subsidiary completes purchase of power module from FuelCell Energy - biogas powered fuel cell

Utilizing carbon-negative biogas in highly efficient fuel cells is arguably the cleanest energy system imaginable. What's more, the concept is not some distant futuristic fantasy, it is here, today.

Earlier we reported on several players from the EU and the US who are designing fuel cells that run on biomethane (here, here and here) and on initiatives aimed at actively promoting the concept (here). One of the leading developers is FuelCell Energy Inc., which designs ultra-clean power plants based on Direct Fuel Cells that are capable of reforming a variety of fuels including biogas into hydrogen, used to generate heat and power for commercial, industrial and utility customers.

Today the company announced [*.pdf] the sale of a 300 kilowatt (kW) fuel cell stack module and associated balance of plant components to POSCON, one of the subsidiary companies of POSCO, and FuelCell Energy's strategic partner for the South Korean market.

The components enable POSCON, a systems engineering and electronics manufacturing company, to build its first power plant to prepare for its own balance of plant (BOP) manufacturing in Asia. These components are equivalent to a complete DFC300MA system (image, click to enlarge) and are expected to ship this fall.

Under its licensing and distribution agreement with POSCO, FuelCell Energy currently ships complete fuel cell power plants to POSCO. When its own manufacturing facility is ready, POSCO will integrate FuelCell Energy's fuel cell module with POSCO's BOP, installing and servicing the units at customer sites. POSCO's manufacturing plant is expected to have 50 MW of capacity by the end of 2008 and 100 MW by 2010:
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This arrangement allows us to capitalize on POSCO's manufacturing capabilities and their economies of scale as we work to meet the increasing demand customers in South Korea have for highly efficient, ultra-clean power generation. Over time, as POSCO gains experience with our DFC systems, we expect them to emerge as a superior BOP supplier, integrator and service provider - not just for power plants there, but potentially for other parts of the world, too. - Ben Toby, Vice President of Global Business Development for FuelCell Energy.
Having ratified the Kyoto Protocols, South Korea is becoming one of the world's leading adopters of clean energy technology, and a burgeoning market for fuel cell power plants. The country's Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy (MOCIE) last year introduced a renewable energy subsidy program that provides substantial incentives for fuel cells - powered by biogas and natural gas - exceeding the funding created for wind power, biomass and hydro, and second only to solar power.

This order brings FuelCell Energy's fiscal year total to 7.8 MW from POSCO.

The company is also researching the use of both ethanol and biodiesel in its fuel cells.

FuelCell Energy: DFC300MA (300 kW), brochure [*.pdf].

FuelCell Energy: biofuels R&D.

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Cyclone Power Technologies tests fuel made from orange peels in fuel injector of its Green Revolution Engine

Cyclone Power Technologies announced last week that it has burned a biofuel derived from orange peels in the high-performance fuel injector of its 'Green Revolution Engine', an external combustion engine currently under development.

The 100% natural biofuel is called d-Limonene, an oil extracted from citrus rind. When citrus fruits are juiced, the oil is pressed out of the rind and distilled, resulting in food grade d-Limonene. After the juicing process, the peels are conveyed to a steam extractor which collects more of the oil from the peel. When the steam is condensed, a layer of d-Limonene oil floats on the surface of the condensed water. This is technical grade d-Limonene (schematic, click to enlarge).

d-Limonene is a very versatile chemical which can be used in a wide variety of applications. As a straight solvent, d-Limonene has found use as an alternative to mineral spirits, methyl ethyl ketone, acetone, toluene, glycol ethers, and fluorinated and chlorinated organic solvents. Much of the product goes into making paint solids or as a secondary cooling fluid. With record-high oil prices, the product has become a biofuel that can be used directly in combustion engines.

Cyclone Power Technologies tested d-Limonene in its Green Revolution Engine (image, click to enlarge) and found that it atomized efficiently through the fuel injector, produced a clean burning flame, and registered a BTU level almost 500 units greater than kerosene. Equally important, the test required no modifications to the fuel injector, demonstrating the versatility of this critical component of Cyclone's engine:
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"Our fuel injector is based on a technology known as High Turbulence Siphon-Type Air Atomization, which emits a small micron gasified particle," stated Michael Hodgson, Cyclone's chief engineer. "We can ignite the bio-fuels on and off like a light switch and they are very clean to burn."

Over the next few weeks, the Company plans to test other alternative fuels in its fuel injector, including biodiesels produced from palm oil, cotton seed oil and chicken fat, as well as ethanol, which is produced from corn.

"We're very pleased with what these results tell us about our fuel injector," stated CEO Harry Schoell. "We're also pleased with d-Limonene, which burns hotter and cleaner than kerosene, and also makes the entire test area smell like oranges."

Cyclone holds the U.S. patent, international patent applications, and exclusive commercial rights to the Green Revolution Engine, an environmentally-friendly and highly-efficient external combustion, heat-regenerative engine.

The Green Revolution Engine regenerates (or recycles) its heat, which allows it to run cleaner, cooler and more efficiently than traditional internal combustion engines. It is capable of running on any liquid or gaseous fuel, including ethanol and propane, and is lubricated with de-ionized water instead of motor oil.

By eliminating many subsystems like oil pumps, radiators, catalytic converters and fuel injectors, Cyclone's Green Revolution Engine is expected to cost less to manufacture, operate and maintain; however, it is highly scalable and sufficiently powerful for applications ranging from lawn equipment and small home generators, large stand alone generators, to cars, trucks, buses, RV's, boats and ships, as well as earth moving equipment and locomotives.

Cyclone Power Technologies: Cyclone engine.

Florida Chemical Company: What is d-Limonene?

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Helsinki citizens support large biomass power plant

An interesting exercise on assessing public acceptance of biofuels comes from Helsinki, Finland. There, a public consultation and a poll was organised to assess citizen's opinions on the proposal by city-owned utility Helsinki Energy to build a large biomass-fired power plant. The results show that a majority is in favor of the biofuel plan, with people on left and those with green sympathies showing strongest support for the renewable energy solution.

According to the poll commissioned by Helsingin Sanomat, the Finnish capital's residents see the plan as a measure of climate change prevention. A report issued last year showed that, of all Nordic cities, Helsinki contributes the largest amount of greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the generation of heat and electricity from fossil fuels, a fact the climate-conscious Finns have not forgotten. Utilizing carbon-neutral biomass instead offsets these emissions.

In the Greater Helsinki area the most divided opinions were found in the city of Espoo, where 48 per cent of the population are for and 38 per cent against the construction of the large chip plant. In the city of Vantaa, 60 per cent of the respondents back the idea.

Respondents' political views also play a role in their attitude towards the plant. The members of the Left Alliance, the Centre Party, and the Green League stand most solidly behind the biomass plant undertaking. Of the rightist National Coalition party members, a narrow minority of 48 per cent give their approval to the idea:
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Among different professions, the salaried employees are most sympathetic towards the plant. The most resistance was detected among entrepreneurs.

The discussion of the energy company’s taking part in climate change prevention was stepped up a notch in the spring by the Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen (Centre), who suggested that Helsinki Energy should be involved in the climate protection efforts by switching over to using bio fuels.

The company has argued that it produces both electricity and heat as cleanly and efficiently as possible. The main fuel is natural gas, although some coal is also used.

Before its first meeting on the 29th of August, the Helsinki City Council will organise a political discussion as a forum for the politicians to receive information and exchange views on the situation.

Other energy production units in the capital area are the large power plants of Fortum in Suomenoja and Vantaa Energy in Martinlaakso, both of which also utilise fossil fuels.

Next year, energy company Fortum will start constructing a new large natural gas power plant in Suomenoja. The facility’s introduction is scheduled towards the end of 2009.

Those who responded to the questionnaire were not asked how much or how much extra they would be prepared to pay for greener energy.

Helsingin Sanomat: Most Helsinki residents support idea of large wood chip power plant - August 13, 2007.

Helsingin Sanomat: Comparison of Nordic cities shows Helsinki has worst gas emissions - September 19, 2006.

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ICRISAT's pro-poor biofuel projects provide livelihood and food security to landless farmers in India

Soaring prices of fossil-fuels and environmental pollution associated with their use, have resulted in an increased worldwide interest in the production and use of biofuel. The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) located in Patancheru in India's Andhra Pradesh state, is playing a major role in bringing poor and marginal dryland farmers into the global biofuel revolution while strengthening food security. Part of its pro-poor Biopower program, the ICRISAT has been working on developing high yield sweet sorghum hybrids as well as designing energy cropping systems that allow smallholders to lift themselves out of poverty (earlier post).

Innovative research

ICRISAT is now carrying out innovative research on biodiesel made from oilseeds obtained from Pongamia and Jatropha plants in an integrated and sustainable system that provides livelihood and food security to a number of ryots (traditional collectively organised farmers) while reducing the dependence on fossil fuels.

Both Jatropha and Pongamia meet the main needs of dryland farmers, as they require little water, can withstand stress and are inexpensive to cultivate, according to Dr. Suhas P. Wani, Principal Scientist and Regional Theme Co-ordinator, ICRISAT.

ICRISAT’s research on biodiesel from pongamia and jatropha crops is not only ensuring energy, livelihood and food security to these dryland farmers, but also reduces the use of fossil fuels, which in turn can help in mitigating climate change, according to Dr Wani.

The institute is working with governments and industry leaders to develop partnerships that can result in economic benefit for the marginal farmers of the semi-arid tropics, even while retaining the strong economic competitiveness for the industry.

The idea is to develop partnerships that link ICRISAT’s innovative research with farmers and markets. “We call this our pro-poor biofuels initiative for the dryland farmers without compromising on food security,” says Dr. William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT.

The path to success began in 2005 when small and casual farm labourers were identified by ICRISAT for linking them with the global biofuel revolution, which has currently taken Andhra Pradesh by storm. “These people are not landlords or ryots with large holdings. All of them are small-scale labourers, with some of them having only 30-50 cents of barren land,” said Dr Dar. About 200 farmers were selected from Velchal and Kothlapur villages and asked to form 15 groups. Experts identified about 140 ha and 160 hectares of wastelands in the nearby areas.

Sapling procurement
With the District Collector’s permission, the eight groups, with technical inputs from ICRISAT, started growing jatropha and pongamia. Plant saplings were procured from women self help groups (SHGs) in Kothapally village, the Forest Department and ICRISAT nurseries.

The soil where the crops were planted was red in colour, rocky and unsuitable for any crop cultivation:
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Wild thorny bushes were occupying the entire area. Jatropha and pongamia were planted after removing the thorny bushes. Jatropha was planted in straight rows at a spacing of 2x2 meters and after every 50 rows of Jatropha one row of Pongamia was planted at a spacing of 4x4 meters.

Soil fertility
About 20 kg of urea and 10 gm of DAP (Diammonium phosphate) were applied as fertilizer to each plant. Small pits were also dug in between the plant rows and dry weeds and grass were constantly mulched into the pits to improve the soil fertility.

The pits also served as efficient water harvesters during monsoon. In Welchal village, intercrops such as pearl millet, pigeon pea and castor were also grown by the labourers.

With fuel prices increasing globally there is a demand for bio-diesel from pongamia and jatropha. We believe that this provides a wonderful opportunity for dryland farmers to get more money from their farms and wastelands, explained Dr. Dar.

“This project was mainly intended to develop a sense of ownership among the labourers so that they work for the development of government wastelands.

The unskilled labourers took care of the plants as their own. All the groups were given complete rights to harvest the jatropha and pongamia trees,” said Dr Wani.

Photo: women self help groups (SHGs) in Kothapally village participating in ICRISAT's pro-poor biopower program.

ICRISAT: pro-poor Biopower program.

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Jamaica selects castor beans as biodiesel feedstock

During his recent 'biofuel tour' of Central America, Brazil's President Lula visited Jamaica, where his country's Coimex Group operates an ethanol plant together with Petrojam, the island state's national oil company (previous post). Besides sugarcane for ethanol, Brazil's biofuel experts have also been working with Jamaica to study the use of castor beans (Ricinus communis L.) for biodiesel. Castor oil is the most important feedstock from perennial crops for biodiesel made in Brazil, where it is grown in the arid Northeast by small farmers under the Social Fuel policy.

Speaking at a biofuel conference last week, Phillip Paulwell, Minister of Industry, Technology, Energy and Commerce said Jamaica is now building concrete plans around the crop, to cut oil dependence. Jamaica imports 90 per cent of all its oil products, and high prices are pushing the island's trade balance into the red. Producing biodiesel from castor beans has become an economically attractive alternative. Castor beans have a high oil content and are widely grown by smallholders on the island. The poisonous plant provides a safe opportunity for biodiesel development without the risk of displacing food crops. It requires relatively few inputs and thrives in poor soils.

Karl James, the chairman of Petrojam Ethanol Limited, who also spoke at the biofuel seminar noted that "there are plans for a major commercial plant to be constructed and many persons are now preparing their lands for the castor bean." James did not give specifics but added, "We believe that large areas of rural Jamaica could be quickly transformed into attractive economic zones where independent small land owners are engaged in the production of an agricultural good for which there is a ready market at a price that should provide satisfactory return for their efforts."

As a perennial crop, castor bean has many advantages:
It is well known in Jamaican agriculture. It is not prone to praedial larceny and can be produced on varied scales from large scale farms to cottage industries, involving thousands of small farmers in the rural areas. I would, therefore, propose that we plan to produce castor oil as the agent for mixing with diesel fuel. - Karl James, the chairman of Petrojam Ethanol Limited
Jamaica currently uses 168 million gallons (636 million liters) of diesel fuel and, therefore, will need 5 million gallons (19 million liters) of castor oil for an initial B2 biodiesel project. According to the minister, the reduction of just two per cent of diesel imports will help in the country's balance of payments and increase agricultural output:
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People will see a reduction in noxious emission as diesel consumption is reduced, thus contributing to the improvement of the environment.

Minister Paulwell informed the audience that the country had to change course with regards to the consumption of fuel. "As a nation which is 90 per cent dependent on petroleum energy, Jamaica has been very vulnerable to the alarming cost fluctuations of petroleum energy, particularly in this decade. And, even as we measure the cost implications to the national budget, and the need to conserve, development and lifestyle changes in our young nation are increasing demand, averaging at approximately five per cent per year."

Paulwell added: "In 2006, imported petroleum product to meet national demand was US$1.736 million. With growth in demand and price increases in 2007, this is expected to climb to over US$2.0 billion. Demand by sector is highest for transportation - 41 per cent of imports meet air, sea and land transportation needs. Energy demand for bauxite and alumina production follows with 35 per cent, while power generation requires 19 per cent of the products imported."

James noted that, "We must then set a timetable within which to produce the oil and introduce the mix to the transport industry."

Paulwell explained that the government could not commit to a timetable for implementation of a biofuel policy as, "We have a few things to get out of the way this month, but I will suggest a time frame to Cabinet as the time is now," declared Paulwell. He went further adding that, "Should I retain my current post then I will bring tremendous exuberance to implementing biodiesel technology as part of our energy policy."

Jamaica's efforts in implementing a viable biofuel industry are receiving much technical support and investment from Brazil.

The Minister explained: "In a partnership with Coimex of Brazil, for the production and export of fuelgrade ethanol, manufactured by the Petrojam Ethanol Dehydration Plant, refurbished jointly by Petrojam and Coimex, fuel grade ethanol is being manufactured from Brazilian feedstock." He continued, "As I see it, this collaboration between Jamaica and Brazil must continue, particularly in areas of improving our technical competence, local production of feedstock and more importantly, private sector investment in infrastructure development to ensure a continuous supply of local feedstock. These are critical to our going forward with ethanol."

Brazil's experience with bio fuels has been extremely positive. The country mandates that 25 of its fuel consumption derive from sugar cane produced ethanol.
Brazil also uses pure ethanol in flex-fuel cars, which has reduced by 40 per cent their consumption and importation of fossil fuels. The biofuel industry in Brazil has also created over 4.5 million direct and indirect jobs and has helped to curtail a rural to urban migration shift.

Paulwell told the audience that, "It is essential to reduce our dependency on non-renewable fossil energy and at the same time, we must increase our use of energy from renewable sources."

Jamaica Observer: Jamaica can use castor bean as a biofuel - August 10, 2007.

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Woodland Biofuels project to receive $9.8 million from SDTC for cellulosic ethanol plant

Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC), an arm's length, not-for-profit corporation created by the Government of Canada, has awarded $9.8 million to a project led by Woodland Biofuels Inc. of Mississauga, Ontario for the construction and testing of a cellulosic ethanol plant.

Woodland Biofuels Inc. and its partners will build the facility to efficiently produce cellulosic ethanol from wood waste. The plant will use Woodland's patented Catalyzed Pressure Reduction (CPRT) technology, which can be used to produce sustainable fuels from virtually any type of biomass, including wood waste and agricultural waste. The technology generates no toxic emissions and eliminates the need to use food, such as corn, to produce ethanol.
Woodland's technology has the potential to help solve some of the world's biggest problems by taking what is effectively waste and turning it into clean burning fuel. The flexibility of our technology, its ability to convert basically all forms of biomass into ethanol, means it is relevant to every corner of the globe. - Greg Nuttall, CEO of Woodland
CPRT is an emission-free technology that produces energy products from renewables. It converts organic materials into ethanol or industrial chemicals, and electrical power (schematic, click to enlarge). The plants are configured to produce the product most suitable for efficient energy recovery from the feedstock at hand.

CPRT accomplishes efficient conversion of renewable feedstock into valuable end products via three major phases:
  1. Gasification - Gasification is widely used in the chemical, petroleum refining and steel industries, as well as generation and cogeneration processes
  2. Catalyzed chemical reactions - Catalysts and catalyzed reactions are the backbone of the chemical manufacturing industry, accounting for 60% of all chemicals produced today, in 90% of chemical processes
  3. Distillation - Distillation technology is well established, used wherever purified chemicals are needed
The industrial chemicals produced (schematic, click to enlarge) compete with those typically produced from fossil fuel refining and meet chemical industry standards. The ethanol competes against the production from fermentation of grains such as rye, wheat, barley and corn. During normal operations, no greenhouse gases are produced.

Unlike conventional fermentation and chemical manufacturing plants, Woodland plants are smaller scale, modular units which can be built in a wider range of suitable locations. This is an important economic benefit for plants with ethanol output, which cannot be shipped by standard pipelines and must be transported by rail or truck to its destination:
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Typical biomass feedstocks handled by CPRT process include:
  • All forms of wood: commercial logging or forest management (silviculture) residue; mill residue from all softwood and hardwood operations, residue from pallets; dimensional lumber, construction wood, demolition wood, engineered wood products; urban wood waste collected from households and classified as municipal waste; coated wood product residues manufactured with resins, glues, binders, and wood impregnated with preservatives; beetle-infested wood.
  • Most other forms of cellulosic materials: cotton gin waste, hay, dried distillers grain, bagasse, rice straw, etc.
  • All forms of sewage sludge: biosolids "cake", processed at a wastewater facility to contain ~ 20% solids; raw sewage containing 3% solids; dry biosolids pellets.
The plant is expected to be located in Atlantic Canada and in addition to fuel ethanol will also produce green energy for use by a neighbouring industrial facility. This will eliminate the need for the neighbouring facility to use 19,000,000 litres per year of Bunker C oil to provide energy, providing further environmental benefits.

Sustainable Development Technology Canada is an arm's length, not-for-profit corporation created by the Government of Canada that currently operates a $550 million fund to support the development and demonstration of clean technologies - solutions that address issues of clean air, greenhouse gases, clean water, and clean soil, to deliver environmental, economic and health benefits to Canadians.

SDTC fills the void in the innovation chain between research and commercialization - helping clean technology developers move through the development and demonstration phases, in preparation for commercialization.

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

French railways continue 'Zero Oil' program with biodiesel

The Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français (SNCF), or French national railway company, widely admired for its highly efficient rail services, continues its trials with biodiesel powered regional express trains. Since last year, the 'Zéro Pétrole' project has been testing two fuel blends, one of 30% rapeseed biodiesel mixed with petro-diesel (B30), and more spectacularly, two modern express trains using B100, 100% biodiesel (earlier post).

In July it tested [*French] the biofuels on the TER (transport express régional) network in the Poitou-Charentes region, with trials moving to the TER Champagne-Ardenne in October, and ending the year with tests on the TER Bourgogne.

Let's have a closer look at this 'Zéro Pétrole' program [*French]. The SNCF manages 15,000 kilometres of non-electrified rail. In order to optimise diesel traction and to reduce carbon emissions, the program directly looked at the feasibility of using biodiesel. In collaboration with the OZONE project (Orientation Zero Oil for New Energies), the hypothesis of a future of diesel traction relying on bio-based fuels was envisaged.

The 'Zéro Pétrole' project kicked off in 2006 when B30 was tested in a captive fleet of 10 of these modern regional express railcars and 3 to 4 freight locomotives. Why a captive fleet? Because the first problem to be studied was the complexity of fuel supplies and logistics.

"The system is new. The B30 used here or there by truck fleets does not meet SNCF’s requirements. We are looking for a long-term product with more precise standards [for locomotives]", says Thierry Cami, at the Equipment Engineering Centre.

The program is studying the administrative and fiscal frameworks relating to biofuels, and is looking at the technical aspects of storing biofuels. Currently, a national plan aims to replace 6% of diesel in French locomotives by biodiesel by 2010. But if the current trials prove to be successful, the SNCF will launch a proposal to up this mark to 30%:
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For the tests, SNCF Research is working with the Institut Français du Pétrole (IFP) and two engine suppliers (ENERIA (Caterpillar) and SEMT PIELSTICK) in the OZONE project (Orientation Zero Oil for New Energies).

This large-scale, 42-month programme analyzes the utilization of B100, a 100% biomass fuel. It consists of 3 phases: laboratory research by the IFP to define the best test fuel; intensive use in test-bench trials; and operational trials with a BB 460,000 shunting locomotive (a high-power Caterpillar engine) and a BB 67,400 (Pielstick engine).

SNCF: Biocarburants : à quand des loco "vertes"?, Rail & Recherche, n°40, Special on Energy, July, August, September 2006

Infonaute: Grenelle de l’environnement, développement durable : les bonnes initiatives de la semaine - August 11, 2007.

Biopact: France's highly efficient trains to test 100% pure plant oil - June 14, 2006

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Study: economic growth and Green Revolution reduced fertility in India by 46% between 1982 and 1999

Development economists, sociologists and environmentalists alike know that there is a widely observed correlation between economic growth, poverty alleviation and a decline in fertility. The issue of population growth has now become important again within the context of sustainable development and climate change, after having been a 'taboo' within development discourse for the past 10 years.

Rapidly growing populations put pressures on the environment and result in a cycle of ever deeper poverty and underdevelopment. When societies cannot guarantee women and households that their children will survive and live in a decent manner that brings them a certain degree of wealth and security, they tend to fall back on the potent logic of 'wealth in people' instead. In many developing countries this logic still prevails.

Indirectly, demographic transitions towards declining fertility rates can be induced by a set of factors, from economic growth to education for girls, providing access to maternal health and by targeted policies aimed at alleviating poverty amongst vulnerable groups. Direct interventions consist of fertility policies (e.g. China's one child policy) and reproductive health campaigns. However, these cannot succeed if they are not embedded in a broader context of development. Of all the factors, 'economic growth' remains the single most important guarantee for success.

But economic growth in itself brings a range of pressures on the environment and usually implies a switch to fossil fuels and modern energy - the very sources of climate change we now want to prevent. Reducing the use of energy and increasing efficiency may be an option for wealthy countries that already made the demographic transition, but for poor, energy-intensive economies in the South, access to abundant energy remains key for development. Reliance on costly petroleum however has dramatic consequences, blocking development and economic growth. If this situation were to persist for a longer period of time, generalized poverty and increased fertility would follow.

It is here that bioenergy and biofuels get an obvious place and can be tied to a development paradigm that aims to boost economic growth, reduce fertility rates, mitigate climate change but at the same time strengthens energy security and access to energy. The major advantage of modern bioenergy production is that the very groups responsible for rapid population growth - poor rural households in the developing world forced to rely on the logic of 'wealth in people' - can in theory become major participants in this industry. This would especially be true of sub-Saharan African countries, which have a huge sustainable bioenergy potential, but also the world's largest populations employed in agriculture (more here), and the highest fertility rates (map, click to enlarge). If these populations were to be allowed to take part as producers in this huge market, and if 'the rural' were to be transformed into a productive space, the poverty alleviating power of bioenergy could have a straightforward impact on the fertility of rural populations.

Two problems would be tackled at once: a reduction of pressures on the environment because of rapid population growth would occur, and a switch to renewable, low-carbon fuels would follow which would allow poor countries to 'leapfrog' beyond a fossil fuel based development parcours. Obviously reality is far more complex than this idealised picture, and much would depend on strong policies that ensure the rural poor get a valuable stake in this new energy market. However, conceptually speaking, biofuels could be key to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and fuel economic growth in the poorest countries, as was concluded by a panel of African scientists at the first high-level bioenergy seminar on the continent that took place earlier this month (earlier post).

The link between population growth and the Millennium Development Goals was highlighted recently by a group of British MPs as well, who stated that a tragic failure to reduce poverty and empower women has been the result of the taboo on population that emerged in the lead-up to the International Conference on Population and Development (IPPD) in 1996. The report, "Return of the Population Growth Factor. Its impact on the MDGs", deplores the 'lost decade' which it says resulted from a move away from talking about population size and growth to the 'language of reproductive health'.
"The language of reproductive health did not spur enthusiasm in parliaments or in wider debate. AIDS was seen as the new health problem, leaving high fertility as yesterday's problem. The impact of population growth in the world's poorest countries was barely noticed." - British MP report on Population Growth
Meanwhile, from India, the world's most populated country, comes a new publication showing how 'economic growth' over the period from 1982 to 1999 reduced fertility by 46 per cent, whereas during the stagnant 1970s no major changes occured. Andrew D. Foster, Brown University and Mark R. Resonzweig of Yale University report their findings in a paper titled "Whether Economic Growth Reduces Fertility" in the latest issue of 'India Policy Forum', published jointly by the National Council of Applied Economic Research and the Brookings Institution.

In it, they show that improved access to maternal health and the establishment of health centers in rural areas contributed marginally to the steep fertility decline. Instead, economic growth as such was the major factor, with the 'Green Revolution' playing a key role. This agricultural and economic revolution led to occupational diversity, expanded labor demand, and resulted in a shift in occupational activities amongst women:
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Richer, more developed economies tend to have lower fertility rates than poorer less developed ones. Over time many formerly poor countries have begun to develop and this process of development has typically been accompanied by sustained fertility declines, Foster and Resonzweig say in their book.

The rapid economic growth enjoyed by India in the period since 1999 has continued to alter the nature of economic relations and thus is likely to further impact the decisions that parents make regarding child bearing.

Rural India over the last three decades can provide the appropriate setting for carrying out such an analysis and as figures show, there was pronounced decline in fertility across all groups in the 1982-1999 while there was relatively limited change in fertility between 1971- and 1982.

Given sustained economic growth that continues to raise wages and increase returns to human capital, the fall in fertility in India will continue for the foreseeable future, the paper notes.

The authors indicate that the findings of the significant literature linking economic growth and fertility decline applies clearly to the Indian situation.

They note that prominence given to maternal education was a source of fertility decline in India. But, on aggregate, only 3.4% of the 46% decline in fertility could be attributed to the growth of health centres in the rural areas. The authors point out that during this period health centre coverage in the rural areas increased by less than ten percentage points.

The Green Revolution, along with other economic changes that were partly responsive to the increased growth and occupational diversification were far more important. These developments led to an expansion of labour demand. The resulting rise in wages not only made child-rearing more expensive but shifted the nature of women's activities both within and outside the household. As a result patterns emerged that mark a fundamental change in women's autonomy, they say.

The analysis by the authors suggests that the areas of high agricultural productivity growth not only experience decline in fertility but also increases in the schooling of children and in the time devoted by married women to non-household work. It also suggests that aggregate wage changes in dominated by increase in the value of female wages explain 15 per cent of the decline in fertility over the 1982-99 period.

Map: World fertility rates, 2000. Credit: World Health Organisation.

Andrew D. Foster, Mark R. Resonzweig, "Whether Economic Growth Reduces Fertility", India Policy Forum, Volume 3, 2006-07.

The Economic Times: Does economic growth reduce fertility? August 12, 2007.

British All Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health: Return of the Population Growth Factor. Its impact upon the Millennium Development Goals [*.pdf]. Report of Hearings, January 2007.

Biopact: Report: biofuels key to achieving Millennium Development Goals in Africa - August 02, 2007

Biopact: Worldwatch Institute: biofuels may bring major benefits to world's rural poor - August 06, 2007

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