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

    A group of Spanish investors is building a new bioethanol plant in the western region of Extremadura that should be producing fuel from maize in 2009. Alcoholes Biocarburantes de Extremadura (Albiex) has already started work on the site near Badajoz and expects to spend €42/$59 million on the plant in the next two years. It will produce 110 million litres a year of bioethanol and 87 million kg of grain byproduct that can be used for animal feed. Europapress - September 28, 2007.

    Portuguese fuel company Prio SA and UK based FCL Biofuels have joined forces to launch the Portuguese consumer biodiesel brand, PrioBio, in the UK. PrioBio is scheduled to be available in the UK from 1st November. By the end of this year (2007), says FCL Biofuel, the partnership’s two biodiesel refineries will have a total capacity of 200,000 tonnes which will is set to grow to 400,000 tonnes by the end of 2010. Biofuel Review - September 27, 2007.

    According to Tarja Halonen, the Finnish president, one third of the value of all of Finland's exports consists of environmentally friendly technologies. Finland has invested in climate and energy technologies, particularly in combined heat and power production from biomass, bioenergy and wind power, the president said at the UN secretary-general's high-level event on climate change. Newroom Finland - September 25, 2007.

    Spanish engineering and energy company Abengoa says it had suspended bioethanol production at the biggest of its three Spanish plants because it was unprofitable. It cited high grain prices and uncertainty about the national market for ethanol. Earlier this year, the plant, located in Salamanca, ceased production for similar reasons. To Biopact this is yet another indication that biofuel production in the EU/US does not make sense and must be relocated to the Global South, where the biofuel can be produced competitively and sustainably, without relying on food crops. Reuters - September 24, 2007.

    The Midlands Consortium, comprised of the universities of Birmingham, Loughborough and Nottingham, is chosen to host Britain's new Energy Technologies Institute, a £1 billion national organisation which will aim to develop cleaner energies. University of Nottingham - September 21, 2007.

    The EGGER group, one of the leading European manufacturers of chipboard, MDF and OSB boards has begun work on installing a 50MW biomass boiler for its production site in Rion. The new furnace will recycle 60,000 tonnes of offcuts to be used in the new combined heat and power (CHP) station as an ecological fuel. The facility will reduce consumption of natural gas by 75%. IHB Network - September 21, 2007.

    Analysts fear that record oil prices will fuel general inflation in Kenya, particularly hitting the poorest hard. They call for the development of new policies and strategies to cope with sustained high oil prices. Such policies include alternative fuels like biofuels, conservation measures, and more investments in oil and gas exploration. The poor in Kenya are hit hardest by the sharp increase, because they spend most of their budget on fuel and transport. Furthermore, in oil intensive economies like Kenya, high oil prices push up prices for food and most other basic goods. All Africa - September 20, 2007.

    Finland's Metso Power has won an order to supply Kalmar Energi Värme AB with a biomass-fired power boiler for the company’s new combined heat and power plant in Kalmar on the east coast of Sweden. Start-up for the plant is scheduled for the end of 2009. The value of the order is approximately EUR 55 million. The power boiler (90 MWth) will utilize bubbling fluidized bed technology and will burn biomass replacing old district heating boilers and reducing the consumption of oil. The delivery will also include a flue gas condensing system to increase plant's district heat production. Metso Corporation - September 19, 2007.

    Jo-Carroll Energy announced today its plan to build an 80 megawatt, biomass-fueled, renewable energy center in Illinois. The US$ 140 million plant will be fueled by various types of renewable biomass, such as clean waste wood, corn stover and switchgrass. Jo-Carroll Energy - September 18, 2007.

    Beihai Gofar Marine Biological Industry Co Ltd, in China's southern region of Guangxi, plans to build a 100,000 tonne-per-year fuel ethanol plant using cassava as feedstock. The Shanghai-listed company plans to raise about 560 million yuan ($74.5 million) in a share placement to finance the project and boost its cash flow. Reuters - September 18, 2007.

    The oil-dependent island state of Fiji has requested US company Avalor Capital, LLC, to invest in biodiesel and ethanol. The Fiji government has urged the company to move its $250million 'Fiji Biofuels Project' forward at the earliest possible date. Fiji Live - September 18, 2007.

    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.

Creative Commons License

Friday, September 28, 2007

RWE Power, BASF and Linde to cooperate on CO2 capture technology

RWE Power, BASF and The Linde Group today agreed to develop new processes for CO2 capture from combustion gases in coal-fired power plants. The co-operation will comprise the construction and operation of a pilot facility at the lignite-fired power plant of RWE Power AG in Niederaussem to test new developments and solvents from BASF for the capture of CO2 - so-called CO2 scrubbing. Linde will be responsible for the engineering and the construction of the pilot facility.

The development of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies - which promise to reduce carbon emissions from coal plants by up to 90% - is important to the bioenergy community in that they can be applied to biomass fuels, thus opening the prospect of radically carbon-negative energy production. Such 'bio-energy with carbon storage' (BECS) systems are seen as the most realistic energy systems to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on a global and drastic scale (earlier post and here). Scientists have studied the concept in the context of 'abrupt climate change' scenarios, and found the technology - if implemented worldwide which would require the establishment of vast energy plantations - can be seen as the most cost-effective, safe and viable 'geo-engineering' option (more here).

BECS-systems take historic CO2 emissions out of the atmosphere; if implemented globally, they could take us back to pre-industrial CO2 levels by mid-century. Only biomass combined with CCS can yield carbon-negative energy and fuels; all other renewables are carbon-neutral at best and merely prevent new emissions. BECS systems clean up our past.

The fossil fuels industry will develop CCS technologies first because it has the money and means to do so, after which they should be applied to biofuels as soon as possible.

Pilot plant
The purpose of the pilot facility to be run by RWE Power is the long-term testing of new solvents with a view to gaining an understanding of processes and plant engineering to improve CO2 capture technology. The goal is to apply CO2 capture commercially in lignite-fired power plants by 2020. The new technology should enable to removal of more than 90 per cent of CO2 from the combustion gas of a power plant and then subsequently to store this gas underground.

Once pilot tests have been completed successfully, the companies will decide on a subsequent demonstration plant in 2010. This will be designed to provide a reliable basis for the commercialisation of the new process. RWE Power has earmarked a budget of approximately €80 million for the development project, including the construction and operation of the pilot facility and demonstration plant.

RWE Power, Germany's largest energy company, is designing all its new coal-fired power plants so that they can eventually be equipped with the CO2 capture technology that is currently being developed with BASF and Linde. The aim is to set up not only highly modern plants from 2020 onwards, but also virtually carbon-neutral coal-fired power plants including storage.

Apart from the so-called CO2-scrubbing method, RWE Power is also developing the first carbon-neutral coal-fired power plant with CO2 transport and storage, based on the integrated gasification combined-cycle process (IGCC). This large-scale 450-MW plant is due to come on stream in 2014, although no decision has yet been taken as to where it should be located. With a view to climate protection, RWE Power has also decided to expand renewable energies throughout Europe, with the focus on generating electric power from water, wind and biomass.

CASTOR: European carbon capture project
RWE and BASF have been involved in the CASTOR project since early 2004, a research project that is sponsored by the European Union (EU) and which seeks to find methods to remove CO2 from combustion gases and to store it:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The project is also supported by a number of prestigious European universities, research institutions, public authorities and industrial enterprises, including several renowned power plant operators, oil and gas companies and plant manufacturers.
We are accepting the challenges of climate protection and want to be proactive in pushing all the available options for the reduction and avoidance of CO2. We are confident that, together with our partners, we will soon be developing the process of CO2 capture to commercial maturity so that this technology can be deployed in new and existing modern coal-fired power plants in the future. - Dr. Johannes Lambertz, Board member of RWE Power with responsibility for fossil- fuelled power plants
According to Lambertz there is agreement among experts that coal will continue to be an important pillar in the global energy supply for decades to come. This is why the companies have set up a long-range CO2 avoidance strategy: building the most efficient coal-fired power plants in the world, and developing a new generation of power plants for tomorrow, with an efficiency of over 50 per cent.

RWE Power is the largest German electricity producer responsible for the Group's generation of electric power in Germany as well as in Central/Eastern Europe. RWE Power uses a wide range of energy sources: lignite from open-cast mines in the Rhineland and nuclear energy for the base load, as well as hard coal, gas and renewable energies such as water, wind and biomass for medium and peak loads. RWE Power and its subsidiaries employ a workforce of over 17,000, both in Germany and abroad.
BASF conducts worldwide research on products to conserve resources and energy. By entering into this collaboration with RWE Power and Linde, we are contributing our wide-ranging expertise in CO2 capture technology. Our research is seeking to find a suitable solvent for the efficient capture of CO2. - Dr. Stefan Marcinowski, research representative and Board member of BASF.
BASF is the world's leading chemical company. Its portfolio ranges from chemicals, plastics, performance products, agricultural products and fine chemicals to crude oil and natural gas. As a reliable partner to virtually all industries, BASF's high-value products and intelligent system solutions help its customers to be more successful. BASF develops new technologies and uses them to meet the challenges of the future and open up additional market opportunities.
This promising co-operation of three responsible major companies can provide an important impetus to climate protection. It is the aim of the Linde Group to help reduce emissions wherever possible. Our activities include continuous efficiency improvements of our plant designs for the benefit of our customers, CO2 capture methods as well as expedient recycling systems and the production of environmentally friendly alternative fuels. - Dr. Aldo Belloni, member of the Executive Board of Linde AG.
The Linde Group is a leading gases and engineering company with around 49,000 employees working in more than 70 countries worldwide. Following the acquisition of The BOC Group plc, the company has sales of around 12 billion euro per annum.

Image: RWE Power AG's brown-coal fired power plant in Niederaussem, which will run the trials with BASF's carbon capturing solvents. Credit: RWE Power.

Article continues

Sacramento utility in 10 year contract to purchase competitive biomass energy

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) Board of Directors announces it has approved the extension of an 18-month contract with Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI) for the purchase of carbon-neutral renewable energy from a new biomass plant in Burlington, WA.

The agreement will allow SMUD to buy 15 to 23 megawatts of round-the-clock baseload power at a competitive cost relative to other renewables like wind or solar, through July 31, 2017. This is enough electricity to serve between 13,000 and 20,000 homes.

Biomass power plants have advantages over wind and solar energy, in that the latter are intermittent energy sources, not capable of generating electricity when there's no wind or sunshine. They need baseload back-up from another source (mostly fossil fuels). Biomass on the contrary is an energy carrier and can be stored, traded, and utilized to provide a reliable baseload. With biomass, peaks in demand can easily be met. However, the difference should not be exaggerated as distributed wind and solar systems are being developed and new energy storage concepts are emerging.

What really sets biomass apart from other renewables is the fact that the energy carrier can be utilized in power stations and fuel production factilities that are coupled to carbon capture and storage systems. This allows for the production of radically carbon-negative energy which takes historic CO2 emissions out of the atmosphere. Such a concept is possible only with biomass; all other renewables are carbon-neutral at best.

Sierra Pacific Industries - a forestry company - turns wood waste into energy through seven cogeneration plants. Together, these facilities produce over 100 megawatts of electrical power. Bark, sawdust, and other low-grade byproducts of wood manufacturing processes were burned or sent to landfills in the past. Today, Sierra Pacific Industries turns these materials into biofuels for on-site cogeneration facilities and dedicated biomass power plants:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Besides the bioenergy purchase agreement, SMUD Board also approved a 10-year extension of a related transmission and exchange agreement with Seattle City Light. This agreement brings SMUD closer to its goal of getting 20 percent of its power supply from renewable energy sources by 2011. In 2006, SMUD’s power mix was made up of over 13 percent qualifying renewable sources.

Through its Greenergy program, SMUD offers consumers the choice of supporting energy created by green resources. Greenergy members can switch to 100 percent renewable resources for use on the SMUD power system for only pennies a day.

Renewable resources (like bioenergy and landfill gas created by waste decomposition) are used to create the energy for Greenergy, not conventional sources that pollute like coal. SMUD matches 40 percent of the Greenergy premium to help secure new power plants fueled by renewable resources.

More than 30,000 customers have signed up for SMUD's Greenergy. According to the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), Greenergy qualifies as America's fifth-largest green pricing program based on the number of customers enrolled.

In addition to purchases of renewable power based on biomass, SMUD owns approximately 39 megawatts of wind generation (with an additional 63 megawatts on-line by year’s end) and 10.4 megawatts of solar power.

Sacramento Municipal Utility District: SMUD Board approves 10-year wood biomass purchase [*.pdf] - September 24, 2007.

Article continues

Mascoma to build first switchgrass cellulosic ethanol plant

Mascoma Corporation, a developer of advanced low-carbon energy biotechnology, recently announced that it intends to establish America's first operating facility producing cellulosic ethanol utilizing switchgrass as feedstock. The project represents one of the largest commitments of capital yet made in support of the cellulosic biofuels industry. Some new details about the plan have become available.

Mascoma and the University of Tennessee plan to jointly build and operate the five million gallon per year cellulosic biorefinery. Construction is expected to begin by the end of 2007 and the facility will be operational in 2009. The business partnership and plans for the facility are a result of the Tennessee Biofuels Initiative, a research and business model designed to reduce dependence on foreign oil and provide significant economic and environmental benefits for Tennessee’s farmers and communities. It includes a $40 million investment in facility construction and $27 million for research and development activities, including incentives for farmers to grow switchgrass funded by the State and the University of Tennessee. The large-scale demonstration facility will be located in Monroe County, Tennessee.
We are excited about our partnership, the first to produce biofuels from switchgrass, and the opportunity in the future, to expand our production to commercial scale. Along with the new DOE Bioenergy Research Center at nearby Oak Ridge, Tennessee will have a one-two punch addressing our nation’s need for low-carbon, domestically produced energy. - Bruce A. Jamerson, CEO Mascoma
Mascoma's focus is on genetically engineering thermophilic ethanol-producing bacteria in order to facilitate the transition of cellulose ethanol processing to a Consolidated Bioprocessing (CBP) configuration. CBP comes down to reducing the number of biologically mediated bioconversion steps into a single process. It is widely recognized as the simplest, lowest cost configuration for producing cellulosic ethanol.

Mascoma’s lead organism for thermophilic 'Simultaneous Saccarification and Fermentation' (tSSF) is Thermoanaerobacterium saccharolyticum. This organism has been modified to produce stoichiometric quantities of ethanol from a xylose feed. This strain is attractive for use in a tSSF configuration as the elevated fermentation temperature can substantially reduce cellulase requirements in an industrial processing operation.

The University of Tennessee’s Institute of Agriculture will support the establishment of switchgrass as an energy crop. Initial research conducted by the University of Tennessee’s Institute of Agriculture indicates that Tennessee is capable of generating over one billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass alone. The U.S. as a whole has the resources for a supply of a billion tons of lignocellulosic biomass (maps, click to enlarge).

Biofuels made from cellulosic biomass, either obtained from dedicated non-food energy crops or from agricultural and forestry residues have a much stronger energy balance than first-generation fuels made from, for example, corn. Cellulosic ethanol's 'energy return on energy invested' (EROEI) is up to 4 times higher than corn based ethanol (graph, click to enlarge). The fact that these fuels do not compete with food is obviously a major advantage:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Mascoma's facility is complemented by research efforts at nearby Oak Ridge National Laboratory. In June, Oak Ridge was awarded $125 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to fund the Bioenergy Science Center, a research collaborative to address fundamental science and technology challenges to commercially producing cellulosic ethanol.

The Tennessee project is Mascoma’s third cellulosic biorefinery. Mascoma has begun construction on its first facility announced in 2006, a multi-feedstock demonstration-scale biorefinery located in Rome, New York. This project is being developed in partnership with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets.

In July 2007, the company announced plans to build one of the nation’s first commercial scale biorefineries using wood as a feedstock. This project is located in the State of Michigan and is being developed with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and partners including Michigan State University and Michigan Technological University.

Graphs credit: UT Biofuels Initiative.

University of Tennessee: UT Board Approves Biofuels Business Partnership - September 19, 2007

University of Tennessee, Office of Bioenergy Programs: From Grow to Go for a New Bioeconomy.

Dr. Kelly Tiller, "UT Biofuels Initiative" [*.pdf], Presented at the Public Hearing on the Niles Ferry Biorefinery Location, Vonore, TN, - August 16, 2007

UT Office of Bioenergy Programs: Switchgrass as a Future Energy Crop [*.pdf].

Biopact: University of Tennessee and Mascoma team up to build cellulosic ethanol biorefinery - September 21, 2007

Article continues

Finland starts trials of Neste Oil's second-generation NExBTL biodiesel in buses

Next-generation biofuels are here. The first buses running on ultra-clean second-generation biodiesel were introduced in Helsinki's public transportation this morning. The vehicles utilize fuels produced via state-owned Neste Oil's proprietary NExBTL (Next Generation Biomass-to-Liquids) process. Finland ambitiously aims to replace 30% of petroleum fuels with such next-generation biofuels by 2020, more than the EU requires (previous post). Interestingly, Neste Oil has recently announced that it is looking into sourcing feedstocks for its second-generation biofuel from the developing world, where they can be produced in a sustainable and competitive way, while potentially offering chances for rural development (here).

NExBTL is a biodiesel production process that differs from classic transesterification but also from second generation biomass-to-liquids processes used to obtain synthetic biodiesel (which is based on the gasification of biomass, with the gas being liquefied via the Fischer-Tropsch process). NExBTL instead consists of hydrogenating fatty acids under high-pressure, using hydrogen produced at the oil refinery (schematic, click to enlarge). The process can use multiple vegetable oil feedstocks and results in a product with characteristics similar to ultra-clean synthetic biofuels.

Several companies are developing the same process. In Brazil, Petrobras is investing in 'H-Bio', in Portugal Galp Energia is doing the same, whereas UOP, a Honeywell company, is developing the fuel which it dubs 'green diesel' (earlier post, and references there).

First tests with the NExBTL fuel shows efficiency remains high, while NOx emissions are down almost 20% and particulates close to 30% compared to standard diesel. In addition, the fuel reduces fossil CO2 emissions by up to 80% (earlier post). Neste Oil recently started construction on its €100/US$134 million NExBTL plant, the first large-scale second-generation biodiesel facility in the world, capable of producing 170,000 tonnes per year (more here).

The bus trials are part of a larger test program. Six buses are on the road today, but in the coming weeks this figure will increase to around 60. In all, there are around 1,400 buses operating within the Greater Helsinki area's public transportation system. The aim is to have every second bus operating in the Greater Helsinki Area running on biofuel by the year 2010.

Two capital area bus contractors, Pohjolan Liikenne and Veolia Transport, are taking part in the first phase of the experiment. From the beginning of 2008 they will be joined by Helsingin Bussiliikenne, the capital area’s principal bus operator owned by the City of Helsinki:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The idea behind the experiment is to reduce the capital area’s emission levels from public transportation. The nitrogen oxide and particle emissions of biodiesel are lower than those of regular diesel.

The experiment will not yet have an impact on the air quality, but in 2010 it certainly will, confirms Reijo Mäkinen, head of public transportation services at the Helsinki Metropolitan Area Council (YTV).

Switching to biodiesel does not require any alterations to buses. The outlay of the experiment is around €100,000 per year, and it will be split evenly between Helsinki City Transport (HKL) and YTV. Neste Oil’s investment in the experiment is slightly higher. For the bus and coach contractors, there are no expenses from taking part in the pilot project.

: Helsinki Deputy Mayor Pekka Sauri fills up a Pohjolan Liikenne bus with NExBTL biodiesel under the watchful eye of Henrik Lindgren. Credit: Roope Salonen.

Helsingin Sanomat: Biofuel buses introduced in Helsinki public transport - September 28, 2007.

Neste Oil: NExBTL Renewable Synthetic Diesel, presentation [*.pdf].

Biopact: Scania tests show bio-based synthetic diesel sharply cuts Emissions - June 05, 2007

Biopact: Finland's Trade & Industry minister wants 30% biofuels by 2020 - June 01, 2007

Biopact: Finnish oil major is considering jatropha oil for next-generation biodiesel - April 19, 2007

Biopact: Eni to produce green diesel from vegetable oils based on UOP's hydrogenation technology - June 20, 2007

Article continues

Boeing, Air New Zealand and Rolls-Royce to conduct biofuel flight demonstration

Boeing, Air New Zealand and Rolls-Royce have announced a Memorandum of Understanding under which they will conduct a flight test with second-generation biofuels next year, as part of a wider research programme to understand renewable fuels and their potential future applications in aviation.

The partners say that as little as a year ago biofuels in aviation seemed like 'pie in the sky' to many industry observers, but it is now a possibility and technology is moving so fast that it may become viable in a much shorter timeframe than previously thought. Biopact readers have been able to follow these developments. Two years ago, our view that biofuels would become a reality in aviation before 2010 was laughed at; today, all major aircraft and jet-engine manufacturers, as well as governments and private aerospace R&D initiatives have launched biofuel programs, with some already in the stage of lab engine tests.
Our near-term goal in this pioneering effort is to identify sustainable alternative bio-jet fuel sources for the planes that are flying today. A significant first step is identifying progressive fuel sources that will provide better economic and environmental performance for air carriers, without any change to aircraft engines or the aviation fuel infrastructure. - Craig Saddler, president of Boeing Australia
The evaluation, due to take place in the second half of 2008, will use a biofuel blended with kerosene ('biokerosene'). An announcement on the source and mix will be made closer to the time of the flight. The fuel will be used on a Boeing 747-400, owned by Air New Zealand and powered by four Rolls-Royce RB211-524s. The Boeing 747 flight, which is likely to depart Auckland and will not carry customers, will be conducted under strict safety standards. Only one engine will use the derived fuel, the remaining engines will be driven by kerosene.

Data will be gathered throughout the test process that will contribute to a wider understanding of the capabilities and limitations of renewable fuels and aid in the search for alternatives to kerosene. The evaluation will validate on a real engine what previous lab work has predicted. After the evaluation has been completed, the engine will be examined for condition and overhauled prior to returning to normal operational service:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

This programme signals the continuation of a very long journey. The environment is not a new subject for us and we’ve been investing in research that has been devoted to environmental improvement for many years. As a world-class engineering organisation, Rolls-Royce is particularly well placed to take a major role in this arena and we are committed to finding solutions. As an industry, we’ve already succeeded in driving down fuel burn by 70 per cent on a passenger per kilometre basis since the dawn of the jet age. - Jim Sheard, Senior Vice President – Airlines for Rolls-Royce
Air New Zealand is keen to encourage research into alternative fuels and wants to work hand-in-hand with industry partners and the New Zealand Government on promoting this type of activity. Air New Zealand would like to progress to an all New Zealand bio-fuel for future tests flights, but sourcing the quantity necessary may be a challenge in the short term.

Research into bio-jet fuels has exploded over the past years, partly because airlines' profitability strongly depends on fuel costs and because bio-jet fuels promise to reduce emissions considerably. But biofuels for aviation present several challenges: they require high-performance characteristics, in particular the capacity to remain fluid at low temperatures and the need for smooth blending with petroleum based fuels. Gradually, biofuels are being designed that approach the required cold tolerance threshold (graph, click to enlarge).

Likely candidates are synthetic biofuels, obtained from gasifying biomass that is liquefied by Fischer-Tropsch synthesis ('biomass-to-liquids'). Such fuels can be refined into designer fuels with specific characteristics. Another potential fuel is 'green diesel' based on a hydrogenation process of vegetable oils.

Some recent initiatives in bio-jet fuel research include a large program by the French aerospace industry into second-generation (synthetic) biofuels and other candidates. The project, known as CALIN is being initiated by a conglomerate of research organisations consisting of France's aerospace research agency ONERA, propulsion company Snecma and members of the country's Aerospace Valley group which unites most of Europe's leading aerospace manufacturers, including EADS, Airbus, Air France Industries, Alstom and Dassault (earlier post).

Snecma recently succeeded in testing a CFM56-7B jet engine with an ester-based biofuel at a Snecma site in Villaroche. The engine is produced by a joint venture between Snecma, CFM International, and General Electric Company. The fuel used was a methylester derived from plant oil, mixed with 70% Jet-A1 kerosene. The successful test with the unmodified engine reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 20% (earlier post and here).

Boeing recently announced that it is planning to to fly aircraft on a 50% biofuels blend in a bid to reduce its carbon footprint and to overcome the future threat of 'Peak Oil'. According to Boeing, a blend of synthetic (bio)fuels and vegetable-oil based biofuels makes it possible in the future to replace petroleum-based jet-fuels.

Boeing is collaborating with, amongst others, NASA and researchers in Brazil (here) and mentioned several sustainable bio-jet fuel production paths in its recent publication 'Alternate Fuels for use in Commercial Aircraft' [*.pdf].

The father of Brazil's bio-jet fuel and his company Tecbio, which conducted flight-tests already in the 1980s and which today collaborates with NASA and Boeing recently launches biofuel cooperatives in Brazil to reduce poverty. Their aim: to produce bio-jet fuels from Babassu, a sustainably harvested oil-rich nut. The vision is for a vast 'social justice' program that relies on sustainble, traditional Babassu forestry (more here).

Also this year, Virgin Atlantic announced that it will fly a 747 on biofuels in 2008. The company excluded the use of synthetic biofuels, because they have already been tested in the lab and proved to be viable. Virgin Atlantic wants to research yet another series of alternatives; it has been looking at Africa for potential feedstock production projects, likely based on Jatropha oil. Sir Richard Branson intends to get his entire fleet working on renewable bio-based fuels (earlier post).

A large number of private initiatives are underway to develop biokerosene. Amongst them Diversified Energy which developed biofuels that withstand very cold temperatures and can be used in aviation. Their process consists of freeing up the free fatty acids contained in triglycerides from glycerol and passing them through a catalyst after which a resulting gas is synthesized into a liquid (earlier post)

UOP, a Honeywell company, has accelerated research and development on renewable energy technology to convert vegetable oils to military jet fuels. UOP developed a technique based on hydroprocessing that may yield fuels that meet the stringent requirements (more here).

The University of North Dakota recently received a US$5 million grant to develop military bio-jet fuels (earlier post). Whereas North Carolina State University found an innovative technology for the production of biofuels for jet aircraft based on transforming glycerol, the major byproduct of biodiesel (earlier post).

Obviously, several armies are looking into biofuels for aviation as well. A study for the US Military, written by Sasol, concluded that synthetic biofuels (Fischer-Tropsch) can power the entire military - including its airforce - in case of severe oil supply disruptions (earlier post). Finally, the U.S. Air Force has been experimenting extensively with synthetic fuels, which can be made from biomass. It already ground-tested them in real engines (earlier post).

In a very recent development, Brazil's state-owned Petrobras announced it plans to introduce a type of bio-jet fuel named 'Bio QAV' in 120 of the country's airports, with concrete trials to begin in 2008. 'Bio QAV' ('Biokerosene for Aviation') is based on the H-bio second-generation biodiesel production process, which relies on hydrotreating vegetable oils (more here).

Many more developments are under way, a search of our site will reveal them.

Graph credit: Alternate Fuels for use in Commercial Aircraft, Boeing, 2007.

Rolls-Royce: Rolls-Royce joins Air New Zealand and Boeing in renewable fuels study programme - September 28, 2007.

Air New Zealand: Air New Zealand Announces Bio Fuel Research Initiative - September 28, 2007.

David L. Daggett, Robert C. Hendricks, Rainer Walther, Edwin Corporan, "Alternate Fuels for use in Commercial Aircraft"[*.pdf], Boeing, 2007.

Article continues

U.S. NIST awards $10 million to 5 biofuels and green chemistry projects

The U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) announced 56 new awards for innovative industrial research and development projects under the agency’s Advanced Technology Program (ATP). Amongst them, the following 5 biofuels and green chemistry projects can be found:

Caisson Laboratories: platforms for biocontained high-value products
Caisson Laboratories has proposed creating a suite of broadly applicable biotechnology tools to redirect the biosynthetic capacity of seeds for the large-scale production of seed-based biofuel feedstocks and other biomaterials for the industrial and pharmaceutical sectors; and prevent genetically modified traits from being transferred to other plants through pollen.

The proposed tools will regulate the expression of certain plant genes while diverting large percentages of photoassimilate (the energy-storing sugars produced by photosynthesis) to the production in seeds of high-value natural or synthetic compounds.

Three commercially valuable applications of this technology will be demonstrated by the end of the project: the alteration of plant metabolic pathways to substantially increase the production per acre of fermentable starch in harvested seeds of grain sorghum; the prevention of germination among second-generation (F2) plants such that inadvertently unharvested volunteer sorghum plants do not create a weed problem in subsequent seasons; and transgene biocontainment such that pollen-based gene flow among engineered sorghum plants and neighboring crops or weeds is prevented.

The impact on the US economy could be substantial; the value of the increase in the amount of ethanol produced is expected to exceed $2 billion at today’s production levels and cost structure, according to Caisson. As for transgene biocontainment, the technology may provide the basis for meeting future regulatory standards for valuable genetically modified traits in crops.

Total project (est.): $2,495,000; Requested ATP funds: $2,000,000

Virent Energy Systems: catalytic biomass depolymerization
Virent is proposing to develop catalytic biomass depolymerization (CBD) process based on heterogeneous catalysis (where the catalyst is in a different phase from the reactants) for the pretreatment of biomass prior to fuel production.

The CBD system will combine acid-catalyzed hydrolysis of carbohydrates with reductive depolymerization to continuously and cost-effectively convert cellulosic feedstocks into oxygenated hydrocarbons (sugars and other intermediates) that can be processed easily into fuels and chemicals using fermentation or an existing Virent bioprocessing technology:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Compared to current approaches to biomass pretreatment, the proposed CBD process is more robust, yielding significantly higher reaction rates and higher product concentrations, according to Virent. If successful, this technology could be used in parallel with several biofuel refinery processes coming on-line in the next few years.

Total project (est.): $2,713,611; Requested ATP funds: $1,998,189

Metabolix: integrated bio-engineered chemicals
Metabolix has proposed developing a commercially viable process for producing widely used organic chemical feedstocks from renewable agricultural products rather than fossil hydrocarbons like oil or coal. Their planned Integrated Bio-Engineered Chemicals (IBEC) project will bio-engineer bacteria to produce a polymer precursor from fermentation sugars.

Chemical processes will then be used to recover product with high purity exploiting the ease of separation and subsequently disassemble the polyester and convert it into a variety of four-carbon (C4) industrial chemicals. Today, C4 chemicals are produced almost entirely from fossil-based hydrocarbons. Global demand is estimated at 2.5 billion pounds annually, and growing at a rate of 4 to 5 percent a year.

If successful, the process could be extended to produce commercially important C3, C5 and possibly C6 chemical intermediates as well. The project is technically risky because of the extensive bioengineering that is required, but if successful it would enable an entire class of bio-based routes for producing key industrial chemicals, reducing the need for non-renewable, fossil-based feedstocks and providing the nation with competitive advantages in polymers, chemicals and agriculture, all while reducing adverse environmental impacts.

Total project (est.): $4,754,451; Requested ATP funds: $1,996,241

Solazyme: biopetroleum from algae
Solazyme has proposed a project to use algae to produce biopetroleum, which will match the composition of light sweet crude oil. The biopetroleum would be fully compatible with the infrastructure that refines, distributes retails and consumes petroleum products—not just automobile fuels but aviation fuel and chemicals as well.

Biopetroleum will require an industrial scale biofermentation process that can produce pure, long-chain hydrocarbons efficiently. ATP funding is expected to accelerate the project by four years.

Adopting biopetroleum to meet even a fraction of the nation’s renewable energy goals could avoid a costly duplication of infrastructure and save consumers and industry an estimated $20 billion a year (compared with other biofuels), potentially growing to as much as $120 billion a year, according to Solazyme.

Total project (est.): $2,704,483; Requested ATP funds: $1,999,321

Thar Technologies: process for biodiesel production without hexane use
Thar Technologies has proposed developing and demonstrating novel processing technology and equipment to produce diesel-grade fuel from plants without the use of hexane. Instead of traditional techniques using hexane for extraction of the oil from plants, Thar will use supercritical fluid extraction, a green chemistry process that uses physiologically compatible carbon dioxide and also requires less energy per unit of production.

In addition, Thar’s process will integrate several post-extraction steps into one continuous, efficient process for producing biodiesel. Once the new processes are developed in the laboratory, a pilot plant will be constructed and operated.

If successful, the technology will be a green process that can profitably produce biodiesel directly from oilseed feedstock while reducing energy consumption, eliminating environmental hazards and eradicating the need for production subsidies.

Total project (est.): $2,408,245; Requested ATP funds: $1,944,126

These projects are amongst the new awards which represent a broad range of technologies, including medical diagnostic techniques, alternative energy sources, manufacturing, semiconductor electronics, transportation, nanotechnology, energy conservation and automated language translation, among others.

A total of 69 companies and one non-profit organization will participate in the projects, which include nine joint ventures. Forty-eight of the projects are led by small businesses. The new awards potentially represent a total of up to $138.7 million in ATP funding together with an industry cost-share of up to $104 million, if all projects are carried through to completion. ATP awards are made contingent on available funding and on evidence of satisfactory progress throughout the multi-year research schedules.

The 56 projects were chosen in a competition announced last April and represent the last set of R&D projects to be funded under the ATP, which was abolished under the America COMPETES Act (P.L. 110-69). The act allows for continued support for ongoing ATP projects, including those chosen in the FY 2007 competition.

The ATP provided cost-shared support to enable or accelerate high-risk industrial research projects. Projects were selected for funding by a competitive, peer-reviewed process that evaluated the scientific and technical merit of each proposal and the potential for broad-based benefits to the nation if the technology were successfully developed.

NIST promotes U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life.

Article continues