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    The Bowen Group, one of Ireland's biggest construction groups has announced a strategic move into the biomass energy sector. It is planning a €25 million investment over the next five years to fund up to 100 projects that will create electricity from biomass. Its ambition is to install up to 135 megawatts of biomass-fuelled heat from local forestry sources, which is equal to 50 million litres or about €25m worth of imported oil. Irish Examiner - September 16, 2007.

    According to Dr Niphon Poapongsakorn, dean of Economics at Thammasat University in Thailand, cassava-based ethanol is competitive when oil is above $40 per barrel. Thailand is the world's largest producer and exporter of cassava for industrial use. Bangkok Post - September 14, 2007.

    German biogas and biodiesel developer BKN BioKraftstoff Nord AG has generated gross proceeds totaling €5.5 million as part of its capital increase from authorized capital. Ad Hoc News - September 13, 2007.

    NewGen Technologies, Inc. announced that it and Titan Global Holdings, Inc. completed a definitive Biofuels Supply Agreement which will become effective upon Titan’s acquisition of Appalachian Oil Company. Given APPCO’s current distribution of over 225 million gallons of fuel products per year, the initial expected ethanol supply to APPCO should exceed 1 million gallons a month. Charlotte dBusinessNews - September 13, 2007.

    Oil prices reach record highs as the U.S. Energy Information Agency releases a report that showed crude oil inventories fell by more than seven million barrels last week. The rise comes despite a decision by the international oil cartel, OPEC, to raise its output quota by 500,000 barrels. Reuters - September 12, 2007.

    OPEC decided today to increase the volume of crude supplied to the market by Member Countries (excluding Angola and Iraq) by 500,000 b/d, effective 1 November 2007. The decision comes after oil reached near record-highs and after Saudi Aramco announced that last year's crude oil production declined by 1.7 percent, while exports declined by 3.1 percent. OPEC - September 11, 2007.

    GreenField Ethanol and Monsanto Canada launch the 'Gro-ethanol' program which invites Ontario's farmers to grow corn seed containing Monsanto traits, specifically for the ethanol market. The corn hybrids eligible for the program include Monsanto traits that produce higher yielding corn for ethanol production. MarketWire - September 11, 2007.

    Ethanol Statistics, a new industry information resource, reports that U.S. petroleum refiners Citgo and Valero are the top 2 ethanol importing companies in the United States in the first 6 months of 2007. Overall imports were up 7.64% compared to the same period in 2006, from 193,620 gallons to 208,404 gallons. Chevron imported 43% less, whereas Noble and ConocoPhilips' imports were up 255% and 372% respectively. Data are reported in 'The United States Ethanol Market 2007’, which also provides a breakdown of U.S. ethanol production costs and a detailed analysis of U.S. consumption and production. Ethanol Statistics - September 10, 2007.

    The government of British Columbia launches a $100,000 study into the production of biogas, heat, power and clean water from household waste streams. Raw sewage water can be cleaned by microbial fuel cells that deliver electricity as they clean the water; other technologies include classic anaerobic fermentation. Canada.com - September 10, 2007.

    Saudi Aramco in its Annual Review 2006 said that last year the company's crude oil production declined by 1.7 percent, while exports declined by 3.1 percent, compared with the previous year. Crude oil production in 2006 averaged 8.9 million barrels of oil a day (b/d) and exports 6.9 million b/d. Saudi Aramco - September 9, 2007.

    Chinese packaging manufacturer Livan Biodegradable Product Co. Ltd. will build plants in Alsozsolca and Edeleny in eastern Hungary at a combined cost of €18 million by 2009, the Hungarian economics ministry says. The plants, which will employ 800 people, are planned to produce initially 50, 000 metric tons a year of environmentally-friendly packaging material, and double that amount by a later date. Livan will use corn to manufacture biodegradable packaging boxes with similar properties to petroleum-based plastic boxes used in the food industry. Dow Jones Newswires - September 7, 2007.

    South Korea aims to raise biodiesel content in domestic diesel to 3 percent from the current 0.5 percent by 2012, Seoul's energy ministry said today. The government was initially set last year to impose a mandatory 5 percent blend, in line with the level targeted by the European Union by 2010, but the country's powerful refining lobby opposed the move, forcing it to push back the target, according to market sources. Reuters - September 7, 2007.

    Virent Energy Systems, Inc. announced today that it has closed a US$21 million second round of venture financing. Investor interest in Virent was driven in large part by the Company’s continued development of its innovative BioForming process beyond its traditional hydrogen and fuel gas applications and toward the production of bio-based gasoline, diesel, and jet fuels. Virent Energy Systems - September 6, 2007.

    The U.S. National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition (NEVC) announces that 31 models of motor vehicles will be offered in the U.S. with an E85 capable engine in 2008. Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Nissan and Mercedes Benz will all offer flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs) in the coming year. The NEVC expects 750,000 such FFVs will be produced in 2008. National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition - September 5, 2007.

    GreenHunter BioFuels, Inc., has begun commercial operations with the start-up of a 1,500 barrel per day methanol distillation system. Methanol is an alcohol used to transesterify vegetable oils into biodiesel. The methanol production facility is a key element of GreenHunter's 105 million gallon per year biodiesel refinery, the largest in the U.S., slated for initial operations during the first quarter of 2008. PRNewswire - September 5, 2007.

    GreenHunter BioFuels, Inc., has begun commercial operations with the start-up of a 1,500 barrel per day methanol distillation system. Methanol is an alcohol used to transesterify vegetable oils into biodiesel. The methanol production facility is a key element of GreenHunter's 105 million gallon per year biodiesel refinery, the largest in the U.S., slated for initial operations during the first quarter of 2008. PRNewswire - September 5, 2007.

    Spanish renewables group Abengoa released its results for the first half of 2007 financial year in which its consolidated sales were €1,393.6 million, which is a 27.9 percent increase on the previous year. Earnings after tax were €54.9 million, an 18.6 percent increase on the previous year's figure of 46.3 million euro. Abengoa is active in the bioenergy, solar and environmental services sector. Abengoa - September 4, 2007.

    Canadian hydro power developer Run of River Power Inc. has reached an agreement to buy privately owned Western Biomass Power Corp. in a $2.2 million share swap deal that could help finance development of new green sources of electricity in British Columbia. The Canadian Press - September 4, 2007.

    As of Sept. 1, a biodiesel blending mandate has come into force in the Czech Republic, requiring diesel suppliers to mix 2 per cent biodiesel into the fuel. The same rule will be obligatory for gasoline starting next year. In 2009 the biofuel ratio will grow to 3.5 percent in gasoline and 4.5 percent in diesel oil. CBW - September 3, 2007.

    Budapest's first biofuel station opens on Monday near the Pesterzsébet (District XX) Tesco hypermarket. This is the third station selling the E85 fuel containing bioethanol in Hungary, as two other stations are encouraging eco-friendly driving in Bábolna and Győr. Caboodle - September 3, 2007.

    Canadian forest products company Tembec announced that it has completed the acquisition of the assets of Chapleau Cogeneration Limited located in Chapleau, Ontario. The transaction includes a biomass fired boiler and steam turbine with an installed capacity of 7.2 megawatts. Consideration for the assets consists of a series of future annual payments to 2022, with a present value of approximately $1 million. Tembec - September 1, 2007.

    Innovative internet and cable/satellite channel CurrentTV is producing a documentary on Brazil's biofuel revolution. Biopact collegues and friends Marcelo Coelho (EthanolBrasil Blog), Henrique Oliveira (Ethablog) and Marcelo Alioti (E-Machine) provided consulting on the technical, economic, environmental and social aspects of Brazil's energy transformation. ProCana - August 31, 2007.

    Oil major BP Plc and Associated British Foods Plc won competition clearance from the European Commission on to build a plant to make transport fuel from wheat in Hull, northeast England. U.S. chemical company DuPont is also involved. Reuters UK - August 31, 2007.

    The government of the Indian state of Orissa announced its policy for biofuel production which includes a slew of incentives as well as measures to promote the establishment of energy plantations. The state aims to bring 600,000 hectares of barren and fallow land under Jatropha and Karanj. At least 2 million hectares degraded land are available in the State. The new policy's other objectives are to provide a platform for investors and entrepreneurs, market linkages and quality control measures. Newindpress - August 29, 2007.

    Brazil's state-run oil company Petrobras said today it expects to reach large scale cellulosic ethanol production in 2015, with the first plant entering operations as early as 2011. Lignocellulosic biomass is the most abundant biological material on the planet, making up the bulk of the structure of wood and plants. In a first phase, Petrobras intends to use bagasse as a feedstock. Reuters / MacauHub- August 29, 2007.

    Seattle based Propel Biofuels, is announcing a $4.75 million first round of capital from @Ventures and Nth Power. The money will be used to help Propel set up and manage biodiesel fueling stations. BusinessWire - August 29, 2007.

    BioEnergy International, a science and technology company committed to developing biorefineries to produce fuels and specialty chemicals from renewable resources, announced today the closing of a major US$61.6 million investment that will provide funding for the Company’s three strategic initiatives: generating secure cash flow from its conventional ethanol platform, product diversification through the introduction of novel biocatalysts for the manufacture of green chemicals and biopolymers and the integration of its cellulose technology. BusinessWire - August 28, 2007.

    German company Verbio Vereinigte BioEnergie, the biggest biofuels producer in Europe, says it is considering plans to invest up to €100/US$136.5 million in a biofuel production facility in Bulgaria. The company wants the new facility to be located close to a port and Bulgaria's city of Varna on the Black Sea is one of the options under consideration. If Verbio goes through with the plan, it would produce both biodiesel and bioethanol, making Bulgaria a major source of biofuels in southeastern Europe. Verbi currently produces around 700,000 tonnes of biofuels per year. Sofia News Agency - August 27, 2007.

    Czech brown-coal-fired power plant Elektrárna Tisová (ETI), a unit of the energy producer ČEZ, could co-fire up to 40,000 tons of biomass this year, the biggest amount in the company’s history, said Martin Sobotka, ČEZ spokesman for West Bohemia. ETI burned more than 19,000 tons of biomass in the first half of 2007. The company’s plan reckoned with biomass consumption of up to 35,000 tons a year. Czech Business Weekly - August 27, 2007.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Sun Grant Initiative funds 17 bioenergy research projects

The Sun Grant Initiative (SGI) in the South Central Region of the U.S. will be making available approximately US$2.5 million during the next three years to area scientists and engineers developing and enhancing new sources of energy based on biomass. 17 highly interesting projects have been selected for the first round of funding.

The SGI is a national program, headquartered at Oklahoma State University (OSU), and was established to create new solutions for America's energy needs and to revitalize rural communities by working with land-grant universities and their federal and state laboratory partners on research, education and extension programs.

The research projects are made possible through funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Two types of projects are being funded: seed-grant projects allowing investigators to explore possible renewable-energy sources and processes, funded at $35,000 per year up to two years, and integrated projects that require multi-institutional participation and are funded up to $125,000 per year for up to three years.

A competitive grants process selected 17 out of 76 projects from the South-Central Region which includes scientists and engineers at land-grant universities in Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico. Projects cover a wide range of topics, from the logistics of biomass handling, over improved energy crop design to research into next-generation bioconversion technologies, innovative uses for byproducts and microorganisms. The selection provides a good overview of the challenges and opportunities offered by the complex, emerging bioeconomy. The following is an overview of the six projects falling under the category 'integrated research' (full project descriptions can be found here [*.doc]):

1. Researchers from Kansas State University (KSU) and Texas A&M University will develop high yielding designer sorghums for optimized low energy input ethanol production and high nutrition feed.

The goal is to develop a systems approach for designer sorghum cultivars to optimize the grain’s endosperm matrix for bio-ethanol conversion and grain distiller’s feed for low rain fed Texas environments. This approach will include protection of sorghum genetics with cultivars combining a high endosperm protein digestibility (HD) trait with a high amylopectin (waxy) starch trait. The scientists have generated data that suggest that both traits individually improve the endosperm matrix for low energy input gelatinization, enzymatic hydrolysis, and total ethanol production. Together, these two traits will be ideal for bio-ethanol conversion.
Bio-ethanol systems often sell the remaining grain by-products as a high protein feed supplement. Unfortunately, sorghum and corn grain are low in essential amino acids such as lysine. The HD trait also confers both a high protein bio-availability and high lysine content. As such, in the bio-ethanol-feed supplement system, the grain would also be optimized for feed. The proposal also explores the inclusion of vegetative tissue for lignocellulosic conversion into ethanol, best management practices to optimize the system for foliar and grain complex sugar retention, and a plan for future economic analysis of the competitiveness of this system with corn and sweet sorghum for the rain fed Texas environments.

2. A team of scientists from Louisiana State University and Texas A&M University will be developing a skid-mounted gasification system for on-site heat, fuel and power production.

The specific objectives of the project are as follows to investigate the technical feasibility of on-site thermal gasification systems with state-of-the art control systems for different unique biomass wastes in the region and evaluate the quality, composition, heat energy and power output. An evaluation of the economic feasibility of decentralized thermal gasification systems and development of economic models for different applications are an objective as well. Systems analysis will be conducted for the different applications within the region and lay-out strategies to reduce barriers for commercialization. Finally, the goal is to evaluate the environmental and air quality implications of the systems including permitting procedures.

At the end of the study modular gasification systems shall be developed whose size is applicable to several biomass generating industries in the region. The technical feasibility of both the fixed bed and fluidized bed gasification systems should have been clearly evaluated by bench-scale and field scale demonstration systems. The field demonstrations should be able to prove the technical functionality of the systems and its impact on reducing the heat and power requirement of a facility particularly industries generating biomass wastes on site (i.e. cotton gins, animal farms, etc).

3. Researchers at Texas A&M University and the University of Arkansas will be evaluating the energy and cost advantages of modules for packaging and transporting biomass energy crops:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Goals of this project are: 1. To evaluate the energy, labor and capital requirements for converting standing switchgrass to chopped material suitable as feedstock for a bio-fuels refinery using conventional round bale and large modules as the storage forms. 2. Determine the optimum chopped switchgrass characteristics for formation and long-term stability of modules. 3. Determine the storage losses and protection requirements for switchgrass modules to minimize field to biorefinery losses.

Expected outcomes can be summarized as follows: 1. knowledge of the visco-elastic properties of chopped switchgrass material as a function of moisture and particle size. 2. information regarding trade offs between harvest moisture content and length of chop for purposes of module stability, handling and transport weight limitations. 3. a preliminary economic model that can perform sensitivity analysis on energy, labor and capital cost associated with the two proposed harvest, storage and transport systems. 4. a breakeven analysis regarding tradeoffs related to more extensive equipment utilization vs. likely switchgrass yield losses associated with extending the harvest window. 5. estimation of annual harvest capacity per harvest unit given typical weather data and optimal harvest window identified above. 6. detailed cost of production budgets from field to biorefinery for round baling and module building. 7. report on switchgrass production and harvest activity impact on other farm operation and processing activities.

4. OSU and Brigham Young University scientists will be studying the effects of syngas sources on ethanol production via fermentation. The researchers hope to design a more efficient and economically viable gasification-fermentation process:

Project deliverables include:
1.A database of biomass-syngas constituents based on several feedstocks including switchgrass, wheat straw, and corn gluten as well as co-firing of switchgrass and wheat straw with coal.
2. An assessment of biomass-syngas constituents on the effects of cell growth, substrate consumption, ethanol production, and enzyme activity.
3. An assessment of the effects of gasification agents on generated biomass-syngas species and the fermentation process.
4. The development of a scrubbing system to reduce nitric oxide levels.
5. The development of gas clean-up systems to reduce or eliminate other biomass-syngas contaminants that are found to affect the fermentation process adversely.

5. Researchers at OSU, Texas A&M University, Kansas State University and New Mexico State University will be evaluating sweet sorghum hybrids as a bioenergy feedstock.

The specific objectives of this project are: 1. Develop and select sweet sorghum hybrids for use as a bioenergy feedstock; 2. Examine adaptability of high biomass sorghum and sweet sorghum to the South Central U.S., including the Coastal Plains, High Plains, and the Central Great Plains; 3. Develop production guidelines for sweet sorghums for these production regions. Agronomic emphasis will be on seeding rate, nitrogen management, and multiple harvest efficacy and water use efficiency; 4. Evaluate the effects of juice press operation and time of harvest on juice yield and sugar content of the expressed juice; 5. Determine the relative efficiency of ethanol conversion from sweet sorghum (lbs/sugar/gallon ethanol) and assess the relative role genotype, environment and genotype x environment interaction on ethanol production potential.

There are two research components. The first will focus on breeding, development and release of sweet sorghum hybrids for commercial production and the second will focus on production, processing and conversion issues of sweet sorghum cultivars and hybrids. Given that the cooperators are strategically located through a diverse set of production environments, we have divided the South Central area into three regions; (i) the Coastal Plain, from the Rio Grande through Louisiana, (ii) the High Plains region, including eastern New Mexico to Western Kansas, (iii) the South Central Great Plains region, including Central Kansas and Oklahoma.. Within each region, specific research objectives will be addressed based on the expertise and research interests of the faculty in that region. A common theme of all research is that it will focus on the sweet sorghum hybrids so that production systems are optimized for their release, adaptation and utilization.

Preliminary sweet sorghum hybrid evaluations in 2007 will be used to identify 3-5 specific hybrids for advanced testing. Parental lines for selected hybrids will be grown in the TAMU winter nursery near Guayanilla, Puerto Rico and bulk quantities of hybrid seed will be produced. Experimental hybrid seed will be distributed amongst the agronomists and they will plant these hybrids (along with checks appropriate for their region) in replicated tests in locations throughout the region.

These trials will also be used to develop agronomic “best management practices” for the three production regions. At each location, specific agronomic and/or engineering objectives will be addressed based on the interest of each co-PI. In South Texas, emphasis will be placed on multiple harvests, on the High Plains, population density will be studied and in the Great Plains, nitrogen utilization will be studied. Juice extraction studies will be conducted in Stillwater while ethanol conversion will be completed in Manhattan.

From this project the researchers will release inbred lines necessary to produce a sweet sorghum hybrid specifically for bioenergy production. These lines will be distributed based on licensing agreements negotiated by the Office of Technology Commercialization at Texas A&M University. The expectation is that these materials will be available for distribution in 2010 and possibly if needed as early as 2009. At the time of distribution, and on a regional basis, extension bulletins and production management guides will be made available on hybrid adaptation, expected sugar yield, and optimum seeding rate under both dryland and irrigated conditions.

6. Researchers at Texas A&M University, Tarleton State University and Angelo State University will be evaluating the nutritional and feeding value of ethanol byproducts for animal production.

Objectives of this project are to determine how animal performance, metabolism, digestibility, and wool and carcass characteristics of growing lambs and kids are affected by replacing protein (cottonseed meal) and energy (milo) feeds with Distillers' Dried Grains (DDG). Trials 1 and 2 will evaluate use of DDG on lamb and kid performance and wool and carcass characteristics. Trials 3 and 4 will evaluate the use of DDG on feed digestibility and nutrient metabolism in small ruminants.

7. Scientists at OSU, KSU, the University of Arkansas and Texas A&M University will be breeding and testing new switchgrass cultivars for increased biomass production in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas and Kansas.

The aim is to conduct a breeding program to develop switchgrass cultivars with increased biomass yield and wide adaptation. Secondly, the purpose is to establish a testing network in the south-central United States.

The deliverables from the project will include: 1. four breeding populations advanced from generation C2 to C3, and from C0 to C1; 2. the development of 6 to 8 new synthetics; 3. data on stand density and biomass yield of new synthetics and major commercial cultivars in the establishment year at five locations in 2010; 4. data on inbreeding and development of hybrid cultivars in 2010.

A series of 'seed grants' was made available for the following projects:

1. OSU scientists will be optimizing a new downdraft gasification system for synthesis gas production from low-bulk density biomass materials.

A unique downdraft gasifier design has been evolved at OSU to generate synthesis gas (syngas) consisting of CO, H2 and methane as the major combustible elements. The project aims at optimizing the new downdraft system for selected low bulk density biomass materials to generate synthesis gas high in carbon monoxide and hydrogen concentrations and low in tar and particulate contents, and to demonstrate its readiness for commercial deployment for distributed energy applications in Oklahoma and South Central region.

The specific objectives are as follows: 1. to fabricate a unique downdraft gasifier system capable of gasifying low bulk density biomass materials and develop a test set-up; 2. to test and evaluate the gasifier system developed under the objective 1 for chopped switchgrass, wheat straw, wood shavings, saw dust, and corn fermentation byproducts to generate synthesis gas high in carbon monoxide and hydrogen concentrations and low in tar and particulate contents and incorporate modifications as needed; 3. to evaluate mass and energy balance and synthesis gas generation cost details for each of the biomass material tested under the objective 2; and 4. demonstrate the developed gasifier technology to selected industries of Oklahoma and South Central region.

2. KSU researchers will be studying saline extractive distillation for ethanol separation.

The objective is to reduce capital and operating costs (energy demand) of the current multi stage separation process for recovery of fuel-grade ethanol from fermentation broth. A single distillation unit will suffice to obtain fuel-grade ethanol. The principle is the addition of salt to the distillation column and the subsequent recovery and recycle of the salt by electrodialysis. The recycling of salt to the distillation column by electrodialysis is the enabling process for saline extractive distillation.

3. Scientists at the University of Arkansas will examine nanoparticle systems for delivery of biological antimicrobial compounds to limit microbial contamination in industrial yeast fermentation.

Their long term goal is to find feasible antimicrobial intervention method(s) that can be routinely integrated with economical delivery systems in large scale industrial yeast fermentation systems. Specific objectives are: 1) Evaluate B. bifidum NCFB 1454 fermented corn grain extract against potential contaminants of yeast fermentation in a model system and screen for effective bacteriocins; 2) Evaluate the effective concentrations of polylysine or B. bifidum NCFB 1454 fermented corn grain extract bacteriocins or their combinations against potential contaminants in yeast fermentation system. 3) Synthesize and characterize chitosan nanoparticles containing polylysine peptide dispersed in organic acids and evaluate the effectiveness of the antimicrobial nanoparticles containing poly-lysine peptide incorporated organic acid spray treatment in yeast fermentation system.

Microbial contamination is the one of the major problems in the industrial yeast fermentation creating great economic losses to the fermentation industries during processing and requiring control in the initial processing steps of yeast fermentation. Failure to do so ensure an eventual shutdown of the fermenter and loss of production time until the system can be purged of contaminants and re-inoculated with the yeast strains normally used for the fermentation process. Therefore it becomes critical to develop broad spectrum antimicrobial additives to prevent potential bacterial contamination “blooms” prior to irreversible contamination and shut down of the fermenter.

The main objective of the proposed research will be to evaluate economically feasible biological compounds for their broad spectrum capability to limit and/or inhibit microbial contaminants in yeast fermentations. Because yeast fermentations are used for the production of the majority of ethanol, this study will be an important step to increase the quality of the fermentation process and therefore provide the Arkansas biofuel industry with better interventions for maintaining the quality of the fermentation process. Finally, the ethanol fermentation industry is one of the fastest growing industries with great potential economic benefit in Arkansas for development of biofuel from agricultural byproducts.

Successful completion of this project should provide a useful intervention strategy utilizing polymer-nano-composite system incorporating chitosan nanoparticles containing polylysine peptide dispersed in fermented extract biologicals to effectively control contaminants in yeast fermentation systems.

4. Another group of KSU researchers will be studying advanced biodiesel feedstock developments for the southern Great Plains.

The aims: 1. to evaluate germplasm with high monounsaturated fat content (oleic acid), reduced levels of polyunsaturated fat (linolenic and linoleic acid), and low amounts of saturated fatty acids for general adaptability to the southern Great Plains. 2. to develop adapted winter canola cultivars with superior oil quality for production of a high quality feedstock to produce biodiesel.

Expected Outcomes include specialty canola cultivars that will be the primary deliverable from this research project. Specialty canola cultivars will possess high oleic acid content in addition to low-linoleic, low-linolenic acid content, and lower levels of saturated fatty acids. High-oleic cultivars are defined as having approximately 75% oleic acid, with reduced amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acid. Specialty canola cultivars will be available approximately 8 to 10 years following creation of breeding populations. A reputable biofuel industry will likely establish in the region over this same time period. Oil produced from these specialty cultivars will provide a high quality feedstock with improved stability for the production of biodiesel. Superior oil quality will strengthen the value-added farm economy of the southern Great Plains, providing farmers an incentive to grow the cultivars.

5. Texas A&M researchers will develop a biotechnology platform for biomass bioconversion based on the microorganism Vibrio furnissii.

The main objective of this research is to further the researchers' long-term aim of developing an efficient and economical platform for the direct bioconversion of biomass into kerosene and other long-chain alkanes. To achieve this, they propose to pursue the following objectives: 1. To generate V. furnissii strains with altered hydrocarbon biosynthesis capacities. 2. To characterize the hydrocarbon profiles of V. furnissii strains with altered hydrocarbon-producing capacities. 3. To characterize the genetic lesions in V. furnissii strains harboring altered hydrocarbon biosynthesis and accumulation phenotypes.

6. KSU scientists also will be examining the viability of sorghum stover and brown midrib forage sorghum for ethanol production.

The goal of this proposed research is to develop comprehensive understanding and utilization of regular sorghum stover and bmr sorghum (sorghum biomass) for ethanol production. The specific objectives are: 1. to characterize the physical properties and chemical composition of selected sorghum biomass; 2. to develop chemical/physical pretreatment technologies to increase the fermentable sugars yields from sorghum biomass; 3. to increase the ethanol yields by identifying and reducing the effects of potential inhibitors formed during pretreatment of sorghum biomass; and 4. to investigate energy inputs and outputs associated with bioprocessing sorghum biomass.

High yield regular sorghum lines and bmr sorghum will be selected, grown under selected environment conditions. Plant samples will be collected at various stages of crop development and at maturity from each genotype. All samples will be analyzed for moisture content, cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin, structural protein, acid insoluble residue content, etc. Crystallinity, morphology, and surface area accessible for cellulase binding will be analyzed using XRD, SEM, and confocal laser scanning microscopy. The chemical and physical properties will be linked to the fermentable sugars and ethanol yields. Optimized pretreatment and enzymatic hydrolysis procedures will be developed to increase fermentable sugars yield from sorghum biomass. The compounds derived from the pretreatment and hydrolysis of cellulosic biomass will be determined by HPLC and LC-MS/MS methods. Economic analysis on energy efficiency associated with bioprocessing sorghum biomass will be conducted.

The main results will be the finding of the impacts of chemical composition, microstructure, physical properties, pretreatment methods, and degradation products on bioprocessing of sorghum biomass for ethanol production. This will lead toward a study of the relationship among the “composition-structure-pretreatment-bioconversion sequence”. The chemical composition and physical properties will be correlated to genotype and production environment. Input/output flows and estimated processing cost will be used to conduct economic analysis. Outcomes will be communicated to the processing industry for use in implementation. The outcomes will include baselines of chemical composition of regular sorghum stover and bmr forage sorghum, and optimized pretreatment and enzymatic hydrolysis procedures for high sugar yields. At least one peer reviewed publications is expected from this research.

7. LSU scientists will be developing advanced technologies for biodiesel production.

The objectives of the proposed research are to use batch and continuous microwave technology to extract oil from traditional (soybeans) and alternative (rice bran, Chinese tallow tree seeds) feedstocks, to convert these oils into biodiesel, and to estimate the feasibility and economic viability of the process.

To achieve these objectives, the feedstock will be subjected to: pre-processing, oil extraction, separation, trans-esterification, and separation of trans-esterification products (biodiesel and glycerol). The results will be assessed using universally accepted analytical methods.

The outcomes of the proposed research project will (1) further develop and strengthen the bioenergy-targeted bioprocessing programs at LSU AgCenter; (2) develop new technologies for post-harvest processing of biodiesel feedstock, and (3) accelerate the technology transfer process from research to commercialization using existing agreements with industry partners.

8. Texas A&M University researchers will be studying the use of animal waste in coal-fired plants.

The specific goal of the proposed research is to demonstrate the use of CB as a co-fired fuel in Low NOx burners and demonstrate the new technology in reducing NOx and Hg. The proposed work falls into four broad objectives/tasks: 1. CB fuel and coal characteristics; 2. facility and experiments; 3. modeling, and 4. economics.

The tasks are selected so as to supplement the ongoing U.S. Department of Energy project in developing new technology and providing an additional market for CB as fuel in coal fired plants.

9. KSU researchers will research ways to break the cost barrier for bio-ethanol.

The long-term goal of the proposed work is to develop reactive adsorption technology for the efficient technical-scale recovery of ethanol from fermentation broths. Unlike conventional ethanol recovery systems, where separation of ethanol from water relies upon differences in the boiling points of the components, in the proposed system, separation will be achieved by selectively reacting ethanol with a chemical moiety tethered to the surface of a solid support and subsequently reversing the reaction to recover purified product.

This revolutionary approach for recovering ethanol from fermentation broth has the potential for reducing production costs by 40%. Literature data demonstrates that moieties exist which will selectively and reversibly react with ethanol to form stable products. An increase in temperature is all that is needed to reverse the reaction. The challenge is to identify a reactive moiety that has very high specificity for ethanol in the presence of water and for which the moiety-ethanol product can be converted back into the individual molecules with only moderate energy input. Project objectives are to: 1. evaluate the feasibility of recovering ethanol from fermentation broth via solid-phase reactive adsorption. 2. evaluate the capacity of the adsorbent to be regenerated and reused. 3. prepare a preliminary process design and determine energy requirements for the proposed system.

10. Finally, another KSU team will develop a multifunctional frequency-response permittivity sensor for biodiesel concentration measurement and impurity detection.

The aims of this project are: 1. develop a portable sensor for quick measurement of blend ratio and impurity concentrations for biodiesel; 2. to develop an embedded blend-ratio sensor to assist fuel-injection adjustment, and 3. to prove the accuracy, reliability, and durability of the sensors through a well-designed experiment.

All filed proposals were reviewed for technical merit and regional impact by experts representing a wide variety of career disciplines. Many more proposals were worthy of funding, according to Clarence Watson, director of the Sun Grant Initiative's. "We�re optimistic that the Sun Grant Initiative will continue to grow, enabling us to fund additional projects in the coming years," Watson added.

Oklahoma State University: Sun Grant Initiative, South Central Region homepage.

South Central Region Sun Grant Initiative 2007 Awards: DOT Biobased Transportation Research Program. Regional Competitive Grants [*.doc] - August 2007.

Eurekalert: Sun Grant initiates new funding for biobased energy - August 13, 2007.

Article continues

Brazil initiates WTO case against U.S. ethanol and farm subsidies

Earlier this year, the United States and Brazil pledged to collaborate on the development of biofuels technologies and markets in the Americas. Even though the agreement was hailed by Brazil as a recognition of its expertise and leadership in the sector, the country could not convince the U.S. to give up its trade barriers imposed on imported ethanol or its large farm and biofuel subsidies. To challenge this state of affairs, Brazil has now initiated [*Portuguese] a case against the U.S. at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the global body that settles trade related disputes. The move could threaten the U.S. biofuel industry.

In Brazil, ethanol is produced in a highly efficient, sustainable and cost-effective manner, making the biofuel the most competitive available and considerably less costly than gasoline. Compared to ethanol made from corn in the U.S., Brazil's sugarcane ethanol is around 3 times less costly and has an energy balance 8 to 10 times stronger. Not surprisingly, the country is trying to create a global market for its green product and wants to export to the largest consumers. However, the U.S. protects its own ethanol producers by a steep $0.54 per gallon tariff, blocking direct imports. Moreover, American farmers and biofuel manufacturers receive lavish subsidies, estimated to cost U.S. tax payers as much as $5.1 billion in 2006 for ethanol alone (earlier post).

Brazil has now launched a case against the U.S. at the WTO. Trade negotiators of both countries will soon meet to discuss the issue of agricultural subsidies, in particular those offered to American maize farmers.

The move comes at a time when the U.S. presidential elections come closer and more and more candidates are speaking out in favor of locally produced ethanol. According to the Estado de S.Paulo [*Portuguese], these politicians are heavily influenced by the powerful corn and agribusiness lobbies, who want to shield themselves from much more competitive biofuels produced in the Global South. By promising ever higher subsidies, candidates hope to gain support from these lobbies.

The strategy of the Brazilian government is to focus on all American farm subsidies, which stretch from the cotton, sugar and soy sector to corn and many other commodities. These subsidies keep millions of farmers in the developing world in poverty. Brazil leads the G20, a group of developing and transition economies who work towards changing this state of affairs. And even though the group has achieved several successes, the crucial Doha Round of trade negotiations, aimed specifically at helping developing countries, still faces a deadlock, mainly over agricultural subsidies.

However, the case against U.S. farm subsidies, with a focus on biofuels, is receiving more and more support:
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Besides the G20, Canada, potentially a large biodiesel producer, has joined Brazil as has India, the world's second largest sugar producer.

In a similar development, the governments of Sweden and the Netherlands launched a formal request for a study to be performed by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to assess the damages brought about by farm subsidies and biofuel trade barriers both in the U.S. and the EU (earlier post). Sweden, one of Europe's leading green nations, wants all barriers for biofuels removed, so that a global trade can emerge that allows countries in the South to make use of their comparative advantages (more here).

Experts agree that biofuels offer one of the most important opportunities for the developing world to lift millions of farmers out of poverty. But for this to succeed, thorough trade reform is needed. Most recently, the chief of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, spoke out about the issue in no uncertain terms (previous post).

Thanks Marcelo Acuna of EthanolBrasil.

Agencia Estado: Brasil ataca etanol dos EUA na OMC - August 14, 2007.

Estado de Sao Paulo: Etanol vira bandeira eleitoral nos Estados Unidos - August 14, 2007.

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

Biopact: Sweden and Netherlands ask OECD to study unfair biofuel subsidies - May 20, 2007

Biopact: Sweden calls for international biofuels trade - August 11, 2007

Biopact: Subsidies for uncompetitive U.S. biofuels cost taxpayers billions - report - October 26, 2006

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Engineers develop compact biomass powered CHP plant based on Stirling engines

A consortium of European research organisations has achieved an engineering breakthrough by developing a compact, highly efficient combined heat-and-power (CHP) plant based on stirling engines and fueled by biomass. Until now there were no biomass CHP technologies available in the power range below 100 kWel. The engineers succeeded in optimizing and scaling down the technology to a power range of 35 kWel and a 70 kWel.

The small scale plants are hyper-efficient with an overall system efficiency ranging between 85 and 93%. Because the CHP units are so compact, they can replace existing but far less efficient traditional hot-water boilers. Alternatively they can operate in decentralised and autonomous energy systems in off-grid places, particularly in the developing world. Given that it is fueled by renewable and carbon-neutral solid biomass, the system is one of the cleanest energy concepts available.

The technology was developed within the scope of a research, development and demonstration cooperation project jointly carried out by the Technical University of Denmark, Bios Bioenergiesysteme, Mawera Holzfeuerungsanlagen and the Austrian Bioenergy Centre. Two pilot plants have been tested extensively with promising results: the smallest of the two pilot plants, the 35 kWel unit (image, click to enlarge), was tested for more than 10,000 hours, whereas the 70 kWel system has been operated for approximately 3,000 hours.

The following table shows relevant technical data and efficiencies of the CHP technology based on the 35 kWel- and the 70 kWel-Stirling engines:

The technology should become available on the market over the next few years.

The small-scale CHP unit works on the basis of an advanced furnace, equipped with underfeed stoker technology where the biofuel is burned. In the combustion chamber the flue gas reaches temperatures of approximately 1,300 °C. Heat is then transferred to the Stirling hot heat exchanger and the temperature of the flue gas is reduced to about 800 °C at a heat exchanger outlet. Subsequently, the flue gas passes through an air preheater and an economiser mounted downstream the hot heat exchanger (schematic, click to enlarge).

Integrating, scaling and optimising the system in such a way that it can be fueled by biomass, a fuel with particular properties, presented many challenges and required several innovations:
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An efficient engine
The core of the system is based on the Stirling engine. Such engines are based on a closed cycle, where the working gas is alternately compressed in a cold cylinder volume and expanded in a hot cylinder volume. The advantage of the Stirling engine in comparison to internal combustion engines is that the heat is not supplied to the cycle by combustion of the fuel inside the cylinder, but transferred from the outside through a heat exchanger in the same way as in a steam boiler. Consequently, the combustion system for a Stirling engine can be based on proven furnace technology, thus reducing combustion related problems.

The heat input from fuel combustion is transferred to the working gas through a hot heat exchanger at high temperatures. The heat that is not converted into work on the shaft is rejected to the cooling water in a cold heat exchanger.

The Stirling engine developed at the Technical University of Denmark uses Helium as working gas and is designed as a hermetically sealed unit. The use of Helium is very efficient in the context of the electric efficiency of the engine, but the researchers found that the utilisation of this low molecular weight gas made it difficult to design a piston rod seal, which keeps the working gas inside the cylinder and prevents the lubrication oil from entering the cylinder.

Many solutions have been tested, but it is still a delicate component in the engine. An attractive option was to bypass the problem by designing the engine as a hermetically sealed unit with the generator incorporated in the pressurised crankcase, just like the electric motor in a hermetically sealed compressor for refrigeration. This way, only static seals are necessary and the only connections from the inside to the outside of the hermetically sealed crankcase are the cable connections between the generator and the grid.

The challenges presented by the utilization of biomass fuels in connection with a Stirling engine were concentrated on transferring the heat from the combustion of the fuel into the working gas. The temperature must be high in order to obtain an acceptable specific power output and efficiency, and the heat exchanger must be designed so that problems with fouling are minimised.

Because of the high temperatures in the combustion chamber and the risk of fouling, it is not possible to utilise a Stirling engine designed for natural gas, as narrow passages in the Stirling heat exchanger are blocked after less than an hour of operation with biomass fuels. The risk of fouling in biomass combustion processes is mainly due to aerosol formation and condensation of ash vapours when the flue gas gets cooled. Bios Bioenergiesysteme GmbH developed a programme calculating the heat transfer from the flue gas to the internal working gas. Based on this development comprehensive design studies were performed and the performance of the Stirling heat exchanger was improved and optimised.

The image above (click to enlarge) shows an energy flow sheet of the CHP plant based on a 35 kWel Stirling engine. The electric plant efficiency amounts to approximately 12% and the overall plant efficiency to about 85 to 92%. The thermal heat output is normally in the range of around 230 kW and the fuel capacity (based on net calorific value) amounts to 300 kW.

Furthermore, the Bios Bioenergiesysteme developed and designed an automatic cleaning system for the Stirling heat exchanger which was subsequently optimised during plant operation. The system comprises a pressurised air tank and air nozzles at each heat exchanger panel. The nozzles are equipped with magnetic valves. The valves are opened at regular intervals (only one valve at a time, all other valves remain closed) and the air is blown into the heat exchanger sector and cleans the tubes from ash deposits. The ash is then entrained with the flue gas and subsequently collected in the fly-ash precipitators.

In order to obtain a high overall electric efficiency of the CHP plant, the temperature in the hot heat exchanger and consequently the temperature of the flue gas should be as high as possible. Therefore, it is necessary to preheat the combustion air with the flue gas leaving the hot heat exchanger by means of an air preheater. Typically the temperature of the combustion air is raised to 500 °C – 600 °C, resulting in very high temperatures in the combustion chamber. This can cause ash slagging and fouling problems in biomass combustion systems and in the hot heat exchanger.

Consequently, the design of the furnace and its adaptation to the special requirements of a CHP plant with a 35 kWel Stirling engine was an important and difficult task. The plant should operate at a high temperature level to gain a high electric efficiency from the Stirling engine but temperature peeks in the furnace should be impeded in order to reduce ash slagging and fouling. The plant is designed for temperature levels in the furnace of about 1,300 °C (the typical flue gas temperatures in conventional biomass furnaces are in the range of approx. 1,000 °C).

An appropriate combustion system was developed and optimised using CFD simulations which have been performed by Bios Bioenergiesysteme. The results achieved showed that it is a very important task to optimise the design of the furnace geometry, of the secondary air nozzles and the nozzles for flue gas recirculation in order to reduce temperature peaks in the furnace as well as CO emissions. In addition, the CFD simulations performed improved an equal distribution of the flue gas flow into the different sections of the hot gas heat exchanger and thus ensured an equal heat transfer to the cylinders of the Stirling engines.

Figure 2 (click to enlarge) shows the geometry of the furnace with conventional nozzle design and placement. The secondary air nozzles are placed at the inlet of the secondary combustion chamber. The results of the CFD simulations performed for this geometry show that the flue gas burn out in the secondary combustion chamber is not efficient (see Figure 4). The CO emissions at outlet according to CFD simulations are about 100 mg/Nm3 (dry flue gas, 13 vol% O2).

Figure 3 shows a furnace geometry with optimised nozzle design and placement. The secondary air nozzles are arranged horizontally in the transition zone between primary and secondary combustion chamber. With this configuration the combustion air is efficiently mixed with the flue gas and a swirl flow is established in the secondary combustion chamber. Consequently, the resulting CO emissions are low. Figure 5 shows the contours of CO in mg/Nm3 calculated for the geometry with optimised air nozzles. For the optimised geometry, CFD simulations predict CO emission of approx. 15 mg/Nm3 (dry flue gas, 13 vol% O2). The results demonstrate that an efficient turbulent flow enhances the combustion process and reduces CO emissions, which stresses the relevance of an optimisation of the combustion system supported by CFD analyses.

The image above (click to enlarge) shows the 35 kWel pilot plant. The furnace of the CHP plant is equipped with underfeed stoker technology. The Stirling engine is mounted in a horizontal position downstream of the secondary combustion chamber for convenient maintenance. The air pre-heater and the economiser are placed on top of the furnace in order to achieve a compact design of the plant. To remove fly ash particles from the hot gas heat exchanger, a pneumatic and fully automatic cleaning system was developed and installed.

Friedrich Biedermann, Henrik Carlsen, Martin Schöch, Ingwald Obernberger, "Operating experiences with a small-scale CHP pilot plant based on a 35kWel hermetic four cylinder stirling engine for biomass fuels" [*.pdf].

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Mobile pyrolysis plant converts poultry litter into bio-oil

A team of researchers from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech are developing transportable pyrolysis units that will convert poultry litter into bio-oil, providing an economical disposal system while reducing environmental effects and biosecurity issues.

This is yet another example how pyrolysis plants can be scaled down and brought to the source of the biomass, instead of hauling the biomass to the plant. The logic behind designing transportable plants is that biomass is bulky and can better be transformed into a fuel with a high energy density at the source. This improves the logistics of biofuel production (earlier post and here).

The group of Virginia Tech scientists, led by Foster Agblevor, associate professor of biological systems engineering, will present their research during the 234th American Chemical Society National Meeting in Boston on August 19-23. Agblevor will present the paper “Thermochemical conversion: A dual tool for bio-oil production and a solution to environmental waste disposal” as part of the session “Characterization of Fossil and Biofuels: Challenges and Progress.”

Agblevor is working with poultry growers to test technology that would convert poultry litter to three value-added byproducts – 'pyrodiesel' (bio-oil), producer gas, and fertilizer. The pyrolysis unit heats the biomass until it vaporizes. The vapor is then condensed to produce the bio-oil, and a slow release fertilizer is recovered from the reactor. The gas can then be used to operate the pyrolysis unit, making it a self-sufficient system.
The self-contained transportable pyrolsis unit will allow poultry producers to process the litter on site rather than having to haul the litter to a separate location. In addition, the thermochemical process destroys the microorganisms reducing the likelihood of the transmission of disease to other locations. - Foster Agblevor, associate professor of biological systems engineering, Virginia Tech
More than 5.6 million tons of poultry litter are produced each year in the United States. The litter consists of a mixture of bedding, manure, feathers, and spilled feed. According to Agblevor, current disposal methods, such as land application and feeding to cattle, are under pressure because of pollution of water resources due to leaching and runoff and concern about mad cow disease contamination in the food chain. There are also concerns that poultry litter can harbor such diseases as avian influenza. While avian influenza is not harmful to humans, people can spread it on their shoes, with their vehicles, or through movement of litter.

Poultry litter from broiler chickens and turkeys and bedding materials (wood shavings or peanut hulls) were converted into bio-oils in a fast pyrolysis fluidized bed reactor.

According to Agblevor, bio-oil yields ranged from 30 to 50 percent by weight, depending on the age and the bedding content of the litter. Bedding material that was mostly hardwood shavings yielded bio-oil as high as 62 percent by weight:
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The higher heating value of the poultry litter bio-oil ranged from 26 to 29 mega joules per kilogram while bio-oil from bedding material was only 24 mega joules per kilogram. The bio-oils had relatively high nitrogen content ranging from 4 percent to 7 percent by weight, very low sulfur content, below 1 percent by weight, and were very viscous.

The char yield ranged from 30 percent to 50 percent by weight, depending on the source, age, and composition of the poultry litter. The char also had a high ash content, ranging from 30 percent to 60 percent by weight, depending on the age and source of litter:

“The type of poultry litter used will affect the amount and quality of the bio-oil produced and ultimately will impact the producer’s profitability,” Agblevor said. “Finding the right set of conditions for the poultry litter is key to the adaptation of this technology.”

This research is part of a concentrated effort by Virginia Tech researchers, Virginia Cooperative Extension specialists and agents, conservation organizations, state agencies, and private industry to determine the most effective means to support the agricultural community and manage the excess nutrients in the Shenandoah Valley. The research is being funded by a $1 million grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Chesapeake Bay Targeted Watershed Program.

Foster A. Agblevor, Sedat Beis1, Seung-Soo Kim, Ryan Tarrant and Ofei Mante, "Thermochemical conversion: A dual tool for bio-oil production and a solution to environmental waste disposal" - FUEL 9, Characterization of Fossil and BioFuels: Challenges and Progress, Division of Fuel Chemistry - 234th ACS National Meeting, Boston, MA, August 19-23, 2007

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