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

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

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

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

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

    Tasmania's first specialty biodiesel plant has been approved, to start operating as early as July. The Macquarie Oil Company will spend half a million dollars on a specially designed facility in Cressy, in Tasmania's Northern Midlands. The plant will produce more than five million litres of fuel each year for the transport and marine industries. A unique blend of feed stock, including poppy seed, is expected to make it more viable than most operations. ABC Rural - February 25, 2008.

    The 16th European Biomass Conference & Exhibition - From Research to Industry and Markets - will be held from 2nd to 6th June 2008, at the Convention and Exhibition Centre of FeriaValencia, Spain. Early bird fee registration ends 18th April 2008. European Biomass Conference & Exhibition - February 22, 2008.

    'Obesity Facts' – a new multidisciplinary journal for research and therapy published by Karger – was launched today as the official journal of the European Association for the Study of Obesity. The journal publishes articles covering all aspects of obesity, in particular epidemiology, etiology and pathogenesis, treatment, and the prevention of adiposity. As obesity is related to many disease processes, the journal is also dedicated to all topics pertaining to comorbidity and covers psychological and sociocultural aspects as well as influences of nutrition and exercise on body weight. Obesity is one of the world's most pressing health issues, expected to affect 700 million people by 2015. AlphaGalileo - February 21, 2008.

    A bioethanol plant with a capacity of 150 thousand tons per annum is to be constructed in Kuybishev, in the Novosibirsk region. Construction is to begin in 2009 with investments into the project estimated at €200 million. A 'wet' method of production will be used to make, in addition to bioethanol, gluten, fodder yeast and carbon dioxide for industrial use. The complex was developed by the Solev consulting company. FIS: Siberia - February 19, 2008.

    Sarnia-Lambton lands a $15million federal grant for biofuel innovation at the Western Ontario Research and Development Park. The funds come on top of a $10 million provincial grant. The "Bioindustrial Innovation Centre" project competed successfully against 110 other proposals for new research money. London Free Press - February 18, 2008.

    An organisation that has established a large Pongamia pinnata plantation on barren land owned by small & marginal farmers in Andhra Pradesh, India is looking for a biogas and CHP consultant to help research the use of de-oiled cake for the production of biogas. The organisation plans to set up a biogas plant of 20,000 cubic meter capacity and wants to use it for power generation. Contact us - February 15, 2008.

    The Andersons, Inc. and Marathon Oil Corporation today jointly announced ethanol production has begun at their 110-million gallon ethanol plant located in Greenville, Ohio. Along with the 110 million gallons of ethanol, the plant annually will produce 350,000 tons of distillers dried grains, an animal feed ingredient. Marathon Oil - February 14, 2008.

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Consortium releases major database of protein sequences from oceanic microbes

Many of the products of the future bioeconomy will be made by relying on dedicated enzymes and biochemical processes discovered or designed by looking at the way proteins work. Molecular and synthetic biologists continuously search for novel enzymes which can transform biomass into a wide range of materials in ever more efficient and targeted ways. Such biological catalysts can be found in all living organisms, from ordinary bugs found on compost heaps to extremophiles found in the harshest environments (earlier post). However, there exists a vast world that remains largely unexplored: that of marine micro-organisms.

A multinational biological information consortium, the Universal Protein Resource (UniProt), has now added a new database repository of DNA sequences obtained from oceanic microbes to its family of protein sequence databases. The data are publicly available. Information accumulated in this database is central to fundamental biological research, because of the functions that these molecules carry out in cells.

Proteomics research, the large-scale study of proteins and their interactions, has accelerated in recent years because of technological advances in protein science and the large amounts of genomic data pouring out of the Human Genome Project (HGP). The UniProt consortium aims to support biological research by maintaining a high quality database that serves as a stable, comprehensive, fully classified, richly and accurately annotated protein sequence knowledge base, with extensive cross-references and querying interfaces freely accessible to the scientific community.

In a major leap forward for researchers everywhere, UniProt has added the new database repository for metagenomic and environmental data to its existing family of protein sequence databases, the largest in the world. Metagenomics is the large-scale genomic analysis of microbes recovered from environmental samples, as opposed to laboratory-grown organisms which represent only a small proportion of the microbial world.

Secrets of the deep
The UniProt Metagenomic and Environmental Sequences (UniMES) database contains the data from the Global Ocean Sampling Expedition(GOS), which was originally submitted to the International Nucleotide Sequence Databases (INSDC). The GOS expedition was led by Dr. J Craig Venter, driving force behind the Human Genome Project and a leading scientist in the field of synthetic biology, which opens new doors to the bioeconomy (earlier post, here and here).

The initial GOS dataset is composed of 28 million DNA sequences from oceanic microbes and it predicts nearly 6 million proteins:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

By combining the predicted protein sequences with automatic classification by InterPro, the EBI’s integrated resource for protein families, domains and functional sites, UniMES uniquely provides free access to the array of genomic information gathered from sampling expeditions, enhanced by links to further analytical resources. Genomics holds the key to understanding a significant part of the world around us, and the metagenomic and environmental data represent a step forward in further charting genomic diversity.

With the increasing volume and variety of protein sequences and functional information that has become available, UniProt effectively serves as the central database of protein sequence and function. It has become a cornerstone for a wide range of scientists active in modern biological research, especially in the field of proteomics. Researchers working at the PIR site have also made great strides in automating the use of computers to analyse proteins.

As a publicly funded project, UniProt's data is freely accessible and all data is released in a timely manner. The website created for UniProt effectively fulfils this role.

The UniProt Consortium comprises the European Molecular Biology Laboratory’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics (SIB), and the Protein Information Resource (PIR) hosted by the National Biomedical Research Foundation (NBRF) at the Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., USA.

Image: Sample of oceanic bacteria as seen using epifluorescence microscopy. Credit: Microbiologist Dr. Ed DeLong.

European Research Headlines: Maritime secrets added to biological repository - August 22, 2007.

J. Craig Venter Institute: Global Ocean Sampling Expedition.

Biopact: Investigating life in extreme environments may yield applications in the bioeconomy - July 05, 2007

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Chemrec and NewPage team up to produce biofuels from black liquor gasification

The effort to utilize abundant industrial biomass waste streams for the production of biofuels continues. Swedish-based Chemrec AB and Ohio-based NewPage Corporation have formed a partnership to explore possible development of a plant that would produce renewable fuels from black liquor at the NewPage paper mill in Escanaba, Michigan. The agreement was announced by Michigan's governor Jennifer M. Granholm during a tour in Europe.

The proposed plant would employ Chemrec's black liquor gasification (BLG) technology, which converts waste from the paper pulping process into synthesis gas. The synthesis gas can be used to generate power and electricity, or processed into a variety of biofuels such as dimethyl ether (DME) and methanol (MeOH), or alternatively Fischer-Tropsch diesel (FTD), Synthetic Natural Gas (SNG), or hydrogen (H2) (schematic, click to enlarge).

According to Chemrec, the potential of this efficient fuel production process and the available feedstock is large. For Sweden alone, it could replace approximately 30 - 40 % of the country's consumption of petrol and diesel or 5-7 % of today’s electricity demand. The renewable fuels, produced in large-scale plants, would have prices comparable to fossil petrol and diesel. Well-to-wheel analyses show that the BLG production process is amongst the most energy efficient production routes to renewable fuels, and consequently results in high CO2 reduction levels (graph, click to enlarge):

For the Escanaba mill it is estimated that the process could yield up to 13 million gallons of liquid biofuel per year from the black liquor waste stream. The plant would be closely integrated with the paper mill to optimize energy efficiency and enhance the pulp production capacity of the mill. Chemrec's gasification plants can be fully integrated in existing pulp mill processes (schematic, click to enlarge):
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Several European and U.S. studies have shown the BLG technology to provide a highly efficient and environmentally sound route for converting biomass to liquid biofuels. The technology does not require high-grade wood or woodchips.
We continuously search for ways to improve operations while at the same time improving our efficient use of renewable resources such as wood and wood waste. Liquid biofuel production using the BLG technology holds promise to improve efficiencies at our mills as well as becoming a source of valuable fuels and chemicals extracted from renewable sources. - Mark A. Suwyn, NewPage Corporation Chairman and CEO
The addition of Chemrec's BLG technology to NewPage's Escanaba mill is expected to create new on and off-site job opportunities. New jobs would be created at the NewPage facility for both biofuel production and for the enhanced pulping capacity. Additional jobs would include logging operations, transportation and maintenance jobs and construction jobs during the development of the plant.

Michigan's governor Jennifer M. Granholm made the announcement in Sweden following a reception with company and government leaders to celebrate the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the two companies. The governor and Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) President and CEO James C. Epolito are on the third day of an investment mission to Sweden and Germany.

Office of the Governor: Granholm: Alternative Energy Partnership to Fuel Further Growth in Michigan's Bio-Economy - August 22, 2007.

Chemrec: High-Temperature Black Liquor Gasification - Status and Outlook [*.pdf], Int. Conference Biomass Gasification for an efficient provision of electricity and fuels – state of knowledge 2007 Leipzig, Germany, February 27-28, 2007

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The bioeconomy at work: Sony develops most efficient biofuel cell ever, powered by sugar

Good news for the emerging carbohydrate economy: electronics major Sony today announced the development of the world's most efficient 'bio-battery' that generates electricity from carbohydrates (sugars) utilizing enzymes as its catalyst, through the application of power generation principles found in living organisms. The bio-battery (also called bio-fuel cell) makes it possible to power electronic devices simply by filling them up with a solution of sugar - one of the planet's most abundant biological materials. To add fun, the battery's plastic casing is of course made of bioplastics.

The research results on the a high-power glucose/oxygen biofuel cell presented by Sony have been accepted as an academic paper at the 234th American Chemical Society National Meeting & Exposition in Boston, where they were presented on August 22, 2007.

Biofuel cells are electricity generation devices that utilize energy sources such as carbohydrates, protein, amino acids or fat by digesting enzymes. Since 2001, Sony's research on this type of bio-batteries has been supported by Professor Kenji Kano's laboratory at the Division of Applied Life Sciences, Graduated School of Agriculture, Kyoto University, Kyoto, Japan, which specializes in bioelectrochemistry. The data on the bio-battery presented today are based on Sony's original technological developments, inspired by the lab's advanced research activities.

Test cells of the bio-battery have achieved power output of 50 mW, currently the world's highest level for passive-type bio-batteries. The output of these test cells is sufficient to power music play back on a memory-type Walkman (see video).

Passive-type batteries are systems in which reactive substances such as glucose and oxygen are absorbed into electrodes through a process of natural diffusion. In contrast, systems in which reactive substances are supplied by force (stirring, convection) are referred to as 'active-type'. In general, passive-type systems have a more simple structure suitable for miniaturization, whereas active type systems have a more complicated structure and are suited to higher power devices.

In order to realize this record, Sony developed a system of breaking down sugar to generate electricity that involves efficiently immobilizing enzymes and the mediator (electronic conduction materials) while retaining the activity of the enzymes at the anode. Sony also developed a new cathode structure which efficiently supplies oxygen to the electrode while ensuring that the appropriate water content is maintained. Optimizing the electrolyte for these two technologies has enabled these power output levels to be reached.

Sugar is a naturally occurring, abundant energy source produced by plants through photosynthesis. It is therefore regenerative, and can be found in most areas of the earth, underlining the potential for sugar-based bio-batteries as an ecologically-friendly energy device of the future:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Sony will continue its development of immobilization systems, electrode composition and other technologies in order to further enhance power output and durability, with the aim of realizing practical applications for these bio-batteries in the future.

The newly developed bio-battery incorporates an anode consisting of sugar-digesting enzymes and mediator, and a cathode comprising oxygen-reducing enzymes and mediator, either side of a cellophane separator. The anode extracts electrons and hydrogen ions from the sugar(glucose) through enzymatic oxidation as follows:

Glucose -> Gluconolactone + 2 H+ + 2 e-

The hydrogen ion migrates to the cathode through the separator. Once at the cathode, the hydrogen ions and electrons absorb oxygen from the air to produce water:
(1/2) O2 + 2 H+ + 2 e- -> H2O

Through this process of electrochemical reaction, the electrons pass through the outer circuit to generate electricity (schematic, click to enlarge).

Key achievements
1) Technology to enhance immobilization of enzymes and mediator on the electrode
For effective glucose digestion to occur, the anode must contain a high concentration of enzymes and mediator, with their activity retained. This technology uses two polymers to attach these components to the anode. Each polymer has opposite charge so the electrostatic interaction between the two polymers effectively secures the enzymes and mediator. The ionic balance and immobilization process have been optimized for efficient electron extraction from the glucose.

2) Cathode structure for efficient oxygen absorption
Water content within the cathode is vital to ensuring optimum conditions for the efficient enzymatic reduction of oxygen. The bio battery employs porous carbon electrodes bearing the immobilized enzyme and mediator, which are partitioned using a cellophane separator. The optimization of this electrode structure and process ensures the appropriate water levels are maintained, enhancing the reactivity of the cathode.

3) Optimization of electrolytes to meet the bio-battery cell structure
A phosphate buffer of approximately 0.1 M is generally used within enzymology research, however an unusually high 1.0 M concentration buffer is used in this bio-battery. This is based on the discovery that such high concentration levels are effective for maintaining the activity of enzymes immobilized on the electrodes.

4) Test cell combining high-power output and compact size
The test cells of these high-power, compact bio-batteries have been fabricated using these three technologies. The bio-battery does not require mixing, or the convection of glucose solution or air; as it is a passive-type battery, it works simply by supplying sugar solution into the battery unit. The cubic (39 mm along each edge) cell produces 50 mW, representing the world's highest power output among passive-type bio batteries of comparable volume. By connecting four cubic cells, it is possible to power a memory-type Walkman (NW-E407) together with a pair of passive-type speakers (no external power source). The bio-battery casing is made of vegetable-based plastic (polylactate), and designed in the image of a biological cell.

All images courtesy of Sony.


Hideki Sakai, Yuichi Tokita, and Tsuyonobu Hatazawa, "A high-power glucose/oxygen biofuel cell", Fuel Cell Technology: Biofuel Cells, Enzymatic and Microbial, Division of Fuel Chemistry, 234th ACS National Meeting, Boston, MA - August 22, 2007

Ecoustics: Sony Develops "Bio Battery" Generating Electricity From Sugar - August 23, 2007.

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First Global Biogas Congress to look at applications for biomethane in power and transportation fuels

The European biogas sector is growing rapidly as concerns grow about oil and gas prices and climate change. A recent 'Biogas Barometer' report, published by a consortium of renewable energy groups led by France's Observ'ER, cites a 13.6% increase growth in biogas use for primary energy production between 2005 and 2006 (earlier post).

Biogas is composed primarily of methane and CO2, and can be used for heat production, electricity generation and as a replacement for compressed natural gas (CNG) in vehicles. A variety of sources are used to create biogas, including municipal wastes, sewage sludge, manure or biodegradable waste. But increasingly dedicated energy crops such as biogas maize and grasses are being used. Biomethane is the most efficient of the transport biofuels (a comprehensive overview of some of the latest developments in the biogas sector can be found here and especially here).

The total energy potential for biogas in the EU has been the subject of several projections and scenarios, with the most optimistic showing that it can replace all European natural gas imports from Russia by 2020 (more here). Germany recently started looking at opening its main natural gas pipelines to feed in the renewable green gas. And an EU project is assessing the technical feasibility of doing the same on a Europe-wide scale (previous post).

Ultimately, biogas production can be integrated into carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects, yielding carbon-negative energy, the cleanest and most radical energy system that can take us back to pre-industrial CO2 levels in a matter of decades (more here).

First global conference
A new Agra Informa conference, to be held in Brussels in November, will cover all these aspects of the burgeoning biogas sector. The First Global Biogas Congress will examine prospects for new legislation to increase the adoption of biogas, in the light of existing EU targets.

The first Global Biogas Congress will focus on ways to commercialise the biofuel and on new applications for biomethane and landfill gas in power and transportation fuels. The gathering will also bring the latest on government initiatives to support biogas production, new technological developments and a key insight into the range of projects being undertaken in Europe, the USA and Asia to capture methane for use in heating, electricity generation and vehicle fuel.

A keynote speaker at the two-day event in Brussels will be Hans van Steen from the European Commission, who will look at government initiatives to increase biogas usage. This will include investment grants, tax measures and subsidies.

Delegates will hear from Sanne Mohr, Special Projects Manager for ENGVA, who are actively promoting biogas as a renewable source of vehicle fuel and who are heavily involved in the BIOGASMAX Project (more here). The Congress will share a vehicle manufacturer’s perspective on the viability of biogas as a fuel for CNG vehicles and follow the continued successes that Sweden has witnessed in their efforts to promote biogas as a vehicle fuel:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Delegates will also hear case studies of waste management companies who are pioneering the capture of landfill gas, as well as the latest developments in biogas for electricity generation and CHP, such as the applications of new technologies.

Expert advice will also be given by leading industry representatives on how to secure finance for biogas projects and capitalise on extra revenue streams created by the Clean Development Mechanism, which applies to developing countries under the Kyoto Protocol to combat climate change.

Gary Crawford, Vice President of the Greenhouse Gas Department at Veolia Environmental Services will outline the variety of international projects they are pioneering in the capture of landfill gas and how they have leveraged the benefits of the CDM.

Jake Stewart, Vice President of Strategic Development for Organic Fuels will share his knowledge of integrating biogas and biofuels operations. Jake has a wide experience of broad-based renewables and prior to his current role he worked for Biodiesel Industries who own the Texas-based biodiesel plant fuelled by biogas. Hear the latest on this type of system and assess the huge potential for the integration of biogas and biofuels in “closed loop” production processes.

The First Global Biogas Congress will enable participants to examine strategies from leading biogas producers on how to successfully plan for and operate a biogas plant. This includes an in-depth analysis of the opportunities and challenges facing biogas producers in securing finance and what organisations can do to attract funding for biomethane and landfill gas projects.

AgraInforma: First Global Biogas Conference.

NewsBlaze: Biogas Congress to Review Huge Untapped Potential - August 23, 2007.

Biopact: Experts see 2007 as the year of biogas; biomethane as a transport fuel - January 09, 2007

Biopact: Germany considers opening natural gas network to biogas - major boost to sector - August 11, 2007

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Researchers to study biofuel production from beer and whisky by-products

Cars in the future could be running on fuel made from the by-products of brewing and distilling thanks to a new research project at the University of Abertay Dundee. Researchers in Abertay’s School of Contemporary Sciences have been awarded a prestigious Carnegie Trust Research Grant to investigate turning residues from beer and whisky processes into biofuel.

The year long project will look at new methods of turning spent grain, a dry waste product, into bioethanol, a more environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels. According to Professor Graeme Walker, who heads the project, the main advantages of bioethanol over traditional fuels are that it is CO2 neutral, it produces 65% less greenhouse gas emissions and because it burns at a higher temperature it is better for fire safety.
The supply of fossil fuels is finite – some estimates suggest that around half of the world’s oil reserves have been used up in the last 200 years - and the race is on to find more environmentally friendly alternatives. - Professor Graeme Walker, School of Contemporary Sciences, University of Abertay Dundee
Scientists all over the world are trying to find a simple and cost effective way to produce more biofuels from waste or low value products. Currently, a large range of agro-industrial waste products is being converted into biogas. But researchers are looking into turning these residues - from citrus peels and wheat straw to glycerine and dried distillers grains - into liquid fuels using a range of second-generation technologies:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Professor Walker said: "Our research will be looking at the far more complicated process of turning waste products from industry into bioethanol as an example of a second-generation biofuel.

These products are currently disposed of or processed for animal feed and turning them into fuel would be an attractive use of the resource.

"At the moment many technical challenges remain to converting waste biomass into fuel. We will focus on finding more efficient and cost effective processes", he added.

In 2005, a Colorado-based brewer announced it was going to make ethanol from the large waste streams that become available from beer-making (more here).

University of Abertay: Booze to biofuels - fuel for the future? - August 22, 2007.

Realbeer: Fill 'er up - with Coors - Colorado brewery turns waste into ethanol to use as gas substitute - October 24, 2005.

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U.S. Biofuels Index: dramatic growth brings planned capacity to 795,700 barrels per day

Growth in planned projects and those currently under construction in the United States remains strong for both ethanol and biodiesel plants, according to a Biofuels Index kept by Soyatech, which has been updated for the second quarter of 2007. However, the data also shows signs that the corn-based ethanol build out may be leveling off. Nonetheless, total planned capacity for liquid biofuels in the U.S. now stands at an amazing 795,700 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boe/d) - more than the oil output of OPEC member Qatar.


Soyatech's Biofuels Index, which tracks planned and actual build-out of biofuels production capacity, reports dramatic growth in planned capacity for ethanol plants over the past year, from 6.761 billion gallons per year (BGY) (25.5bn liters) as of July 1, 2006, to 13.03 BGY (50.3bn liter) as of July 1, 2007 - an increase of 93%. During this same period, growth in ethanol capacity under construction increased 199%, from 2.417 BGY (9.3bn liter) to 7.226 BGY (27.3bn liter) (map, click to enlarge).

Total planned ethanol capacity for the U.S., taking into account the lower energy content of ethanol, now equates to around 606,700 boe/d.

During Q2 2007, total online capacity for ethanol increased by 564 million gallons per year (MGY), or 10.7%, from 5.289 BGY (20bn liters) to 5.853 BGY (22.2bn liters). Capacity in planning rose by approximately 6% during the quarter.

However, the Index also points to a slight leveling off in construction of ethanol plants during Q2 2007 - the first time since the Index began tracking these numbers. According to the Index, capacity under construction decreased slightly by 1.7%.


Total online capacity for biodiesel production increased sharply - 41% from Q1 to Q2 2007, from 890 MGY (3.4bn liters) to 1.255 BGY (4.7bn liters). While it is easier to produce impressive growth when starting from a smaller base, a 41% growth rate nevertheless means that industry capacity for biodiesel nearly doubled over the last three months. That is certainly a significant development, says Jacob Golbitz, director of research for Soyatech and its parent company, HighQuest Partners.

Biodiesel capacity under construction for the same period grew by 19%, from 1.613 BGY (6.1bn liters) to 1.927 BGY (7.3bn liters), and planned capacity rose even further by 24%, from 2.331 BGY (8.8bn liters) to 2.898 BGY (11bn liters).

Total planned capacity for biodiesel in the U.S. now equates to roughly 189,000 boe/d.

The U.S. thus has an overall planned liquid biofuel capacity of 795,700 barrels of oil equivalent per day - an impressive number, making planned biofuel capacity in the U.S. larger than the total petroleum output of OPEC member Qatar: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Golbitz noted that one factor contributing to the strong showing for biodiesel is optimism that the $1 per gallon federal subsidy for biodiesel will be extended with the passage of the 2007 Farm Bill later this year.

The Index summary also discusses issues surrounding feedstock availability, noting a movement away from reliance only on soybean oil and towards the use of alternative feedstocks in the capacity build-out of biodiesel plants.

According to the Index, only 39% of capacity currently under construction, and just 16% of planned capacity, indicates soybean oil as the sole feedstock. "Given the development of trends that we have observed over the last six months, we expect convergence in the price of all commodity fats and oils over the next 6 to 12 months that will leave little to no additional margin for biodiesel producers that use alternative sources," Golbitz noted.

Commenting on the slight decrease in new ethanol plants being build, Golbitz said that "while the percent change is too small and the time frame too short to identify this as a definitive trend, we understand from industry sources that it is more difficult to secure debt financing for new refineries due largely to increased equity requirements on the part of banks providing this funding. We suspect that an additional cause may be constraints on the amount of corn available as a feedstock to produce ethanol."

Map: distribution of existing and planned ethanol plants in the United States, as of June 2007. Credit: DTN Ethanol Center.

SoyaTech: Growth Strong in Biofuels Projects, Corn-Based Ethanol May Be Leveling Off: New Results from Soyatech's Quarterly Biofuels Index - August 22, 2007.

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Worldwatch Institute chief: biofuels could end global malnourishment

Earlier, Jacques Diouf, the director-general of the most authoritative food and agriculture research organisation, the UN's Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said biofuels and bioenergy "provides us with a historic chance to fast-forward growth in many of the world's poorest countries" (previous post). Now Christopher Flavin, the president of the Worldwatch Institute (WWI), one of the leading think tanks that works for an environmentally sustainable and socially just society, says biofuels could help tackle malnourishment and food insecurity on a global scale.

In an interview conducted by Dutch news agencies, the chief of the WWI says that the vast bulk of the world's poor, who can be found in rural areas, benefit from both the opportunity of biofuels as well as from increasing prices for agricultural commodities.

Flavin says prices for agricultural commodities have been low and declining for decades, with disastrous consequences for the 3.5 billion farmers on the planet who depend on global market forces.

"Farmers in the poorest countries were pushed out of the market by American and European subsidies for crops such as grain, cotton and sugar", the WRI's chief says. "Higher prices will for the first time allow them to sell at a decent price." This will help lift poor farmers - who make up between 70 even 90% of the population in most sub-Saharan African countries - out of their miserable situation.

Counter-intuitive as it may seem, higher agricultural prices actually boost the food security of the poorest, Flavin says. However, the social segment made up by the urban poor, still small compared to the rural poor but growing, will need assistance.

The counter-intuitive idea that higher agricultural prices boost the food security of the poor, is based on the well-understood fact that food insecurity is not the result of a scarcity of food, but of poverty and lack of income to buy food, which is actually very abundant (earlier post). Biofuels bring this much needed income, on a micro-economic level.

But biofuels offer a major advantage for third world countries on a macro-economic level as well. Dependence on imported oil is highly damaging to the economy of these countries, some of who now spend twice as much on buying oil products than on social and health services. By building a biofuels industry, these countries can save on scarce foreign currency. Of the 47 poorest countries on the planet, 38 are net importers of oil, and 25 are fully dependent on imports.

"But in order for the world's 800 million malnourished people to benefit from the biofuels revolution, the global agricultural market must be reformed radically", Flavin says. "Likewise, infrastructures have to be developed". The WWI chief hints at removing trade barriers to biofuels in order to allow countries in the South to benefit from their comparative advantages by exporting biofuels. In this he joins former World Bank chief-economist Joseph Stiglitz (earlier post), the IEA's chief Claude Mandil (previous post), and its chief-economist Fatih Birol (here) and many others:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The Worldwatch Institute is not questioning whether biofuels will play a major role in the global fuel market - that is a certainty - the question is when and how.

Flavin recommends the development of strong, global policies that guarantee the many social and poverty-alleviating benefits of biofuels come into effect and benefit the poorest. The president also urges the transfer of biofuel technologies to the developing countries to ensure that the fast transition towards the green fuels is as efficient as possible: "We must avoid a repetition of the social and economic problems we have seen arising out of the oil industry".

Scientists have found that countries in the Global South have a major potential to produce a vast amount of biofuels in a sustainable way. Under an optimistic scenario, by 2050, Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa could supply around 650Exajoules of bioenergy. The world's total current energy cosumption from all sources (coal, oil, gas, nuclear) stands at around 400Ej. These scenarios are based on ensuring that both the food, feed, and fiber needs of growing populations are first met, and on a "no-deforestation" basis.

In short, the potential for sustainably produced biofuels in the developing world is enormous. It is now a matter of ensuring that this is tapped in a socially acceptable way.

Translated by Jonas Van Den Berg

IPS: Biobrandstof biedt arme boeren hoop - August 19, 2007.

Flemish Information Center on Agriculture and Horticulture: Ook arme landen profiteren van biobrandstoffen - August 17, 2007.

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

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