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    The Colorado Wood Utilization and Marketing Program at Colorado State University received a $65,000 grant from the U.S. Forest Service to expand the use of woody biomass throughout Colorado. The purpose of the U.S. Department of Agriculture grant program is to provide financial assistance to state foresters to accelerate the adoption of woody biomass as an alternative energy source. Colorado State University - October 12, 2007.

    Indian company Naturol Bioenergy Limited announced that it will soon start production from its biodiesel facility at Kakinada, in the state of Andhra Pradesh. The facility has an annual production capacity of 100,000 tons of biodiesel and 10,000 tons of pharmaceutical grade glycerin. The primary feedstock is crude palm oil, but the facility was designed to accomodate a variety of vegetable oil feedstocks. Biofuel Review - October 11, 2007.

    Brazil's state energy company Petrobras says it will ship 9 million liters of ethanol to European clients next month in its first shipment via the northeastern port of Suape. Petrobras buys the biofuel from a pool of sugar cane processing plants in the state of Pernambuco, where the port is also located. Reuters - October 11, 2007.

    Dynamotive Energy Systems Corporation, a leader in biomass-to-biofuel technology, announces that it has completed a $10.5 million equity financing with Quercus Trust, an environmentally oriented fund, and several other private investors. Ardour Capital Inc. of New York served as financial advisor in the transaction. Business Wire - October 10, 2007.

    Cuban livestock farmers are buying distillers dried grains (DDG), the main byproduct of corn based ethanol, from biofuel producers in the U.S. During a trade mission of Iowan officials to Cuba, trade officials there said the communist state will double its purchases of the dried grains this year. DesMoines Register - October 9, 2007.

    Brasil Ecodiesel, the leading Brazilian biodiesel producer company, recorded an increase of 57.7% in sales in the third quarter of the current year, in comparison with the previous three months. Sales volume stood at 53,000 cubic metres from August until September, against 34,000 cubic metres of the biofuel between April and June. The company is also concluding negotiations to export between 1,000 to 2,000 tonnes of glycerine per month to the Asian market. ANBA - October 4, 2007.

    PolyOne Corporation, the US supplier of specialised polymer materials, has opened a new colour concentrates manufacturing plant in Kutno, Poland. Located in central Poland, the new plant will produce colour products in the first instance, although the company says the facility can be expanded to handle other products. In March, the Ohio-based firm launched a range of of liquid colourants for use in bioplastics in biodegradable applications. The concentrates are European food contact compliant and can be used in polylactic acid (PLA) or starch-based blends. Plastics & Rubber Weekly - October 2, 2007.

    A turbo-charged, spray-guided direct-injection engine running on pure ethanol (E100) can achieve very high specific output, and shows “significant potential for aggressive engine downsizing for a dedicated or dual-fuel solution”, according to engineers at Orbital Corporation. GreenCarCongress - October 2, 2007.

    UK-based NiTech Solutions receives £800,000 in private funding to commercialize a cost-saving industrial mixing system, dubbed the Continuous Oscillatory Baffled Reactor (COBR), which can lower costs by 50 per cent and reduce process time by as much as 90 per cent during the manufacture of a range of commodities including chemicals, drugs and biofuels. Scotsman - October 2, 2007.

    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.

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Monday, October 08, 2007

A quick look at 'fourth generation' biofuels

The confluence of developments in plant biology and biotechnology, in carbon capture and storage techniques and in innovative bioconversion methods makes it possible to begin to imagine a 'fourth generation' of biofuels and bioenergy systems. The first steps towards such fuels are already being taken.

Major research organisations have found that over the long term, there is vast potential for sustainably produced bioenergy. Scientists working for the IEA's Bioenergy Task 40 put it at a maximum of around 1300 Exajoules by 2050 (current global fossil fuel use is around 380Ej per year). This biomass potential is explicitly based on a 'no deforestation' scenario and on the fact that all food, fiber and fodder needs of growing populations and livestock must be met first. After taking these requirements into account, the researchers find vast potential especially in Africa (320Ej) and Latin America (220Ej) (more here). In short, there will be no shortage of the primary natural resource - biomass - needed to make the transition towards a post-oil, low carbon future.

These optimistic scenarios do not take into account potential breakthroughs in biotechnology, such as the design of high yielding dedicated energy crops. But developments in this field are going very rapidly: high biomass crops, trees with increased carbon storage capacity, drought tolerant energy crops, grass species that beat the major problem of acidic soils, new plants with particular properties catering to a specific bioconversion process (e.g. low lignin trees, maize with embedded enzymes for rapid conversion) have already 'seen the light'.

The combination of such crops with advanced bioconversion techniques that allow for the capture and storage of carbon dioxide make it possible to yield a 'fourth generation' of ultra-clean carbon-negative fuels and energy.

Let us have a look at how the different generations follow each other. First generation biofuels are known for their manifold problems: when made from grains such as corn or canola, they have negative impacts on food prices (this is not the case with sugarcane) and when relying on a crop like palm oil they threaten biodiversity; their carbon balance is bad in that they don't reduce the main greenhouse gas much or because conventional farming techniques (e.g. releasing nitrous oxide) offset the reduction (this, again isn't the case for sugarcane ethanol); their overall energy balance isn't that strong either (some have found that for corn ethanol it can even be negative; for sugarcane, the balance remains good). Finally, these first generation biofuels rely on relatively inefficient conversion technologies such as fermentation by conventional yeast strains or on transesterification by alkali catalysts.

Second generation fuels involve a change at the bioconversion step and get rid of the apparent fuel versus food dilemma. Instead of only using easily extractible sugars, starches or oils as in the previous generation, these techniques allow for the use of all forms of lignocellulosic biomass. Grass species, trees, agricultural and industrial residues can all be converted via two main pathways: a biochemical and a thermochemical route. The first relies on dedicated enzymes and/or microorganisms that can break down cellulose and lignin to reach the sugars contained in the biomass. This pathway yields 'cellulosic ethanol'. Similar (engineered) microorganisms can also transform biomass into gaseous fuels like biogas and biohydrogen, via a process known as anaerobic digestion. Breakthroughs in synthetic biology may yield artificial biological organisms that perform these tasks in a highly efficient manner (earlier post).

The thermochemical route converts biomass via processes such as gasification and fast-pyrolysis. Gasification allows for the production of very clean synthetic biofuels, by liquefying the syngas via Fischer-Tropsch synthesis - combined, this pathway is known as 'biomass-to-liquids' (BTL). It remains relatively energy intensive, but the integration of processes promises increased efficiency. In fast-pyrolysis, biomass is rapidly heated (450-600°C) in the absence of air to yield a heavy fuel oil type liquid - bio-oil or pyrolysis oil - that can be further refined into a range of designer fuels or used as such. Alternatively, bio-oil and its residue (char) can be treated as a feedstock for BTL fuel production (previous post):
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Synthetic biofuels and cellulosic ethanol have an excellent carbon balance and may reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 90% compared to petroleum based fuels. Moreover, they are ultra-clean and reduce emissions of the other major pollutants (NOx, SOx).

Combined, the potential of fuels based on biochemical and thermochemical biomass conversion is large. The World Energy Council recently estimated these fuels could replace approximately 40 percent of all petroleum based transport fuels, by 2050 (more here). The IEA Bioenergy Task 40 sees a far larger potential (up to 260 Ej by 2050, which would come down a replacement of all petro-fuels for transport (previous post).

Whereas the second generation intervenes at the bioconversion step, the third generation of biofuels is based on advancements made at the source - the production of biomass. This generation takes advantage of new, specially engineered energy crops. There is significant progress to be made in this respect. Recent advancements in plant biology, the emergence of extremely efficient and fast breeding techniques (molecular breeding), the rapid advancements in the field of genomics, and classic design of transgenic crops promises to result in plants with properties that make them more suitable for conversion into bioproducts. Major research initiatives and organisations, such as the U.S. Dept. of Energy's Joint Genome Institute (JGI), are expected to deliver. Some of the world's leading biotech scientists, including Norman Bolaug, Craig Venter and Marc Van Montagu are involved.

Recent examples offer a glimpse of what we can expect in the near future. Just recently, scientists designed eucalyptus trees with a low lignin content, which allows for easier conversion into cellulosic ethanol (earlier post); likewise, one of the fathers of modern bio-engineering (now involved in the JGI) designed poplars with a lower lignin content (more here). Scientists at the Agricultural Research Service in the U.S. did the same for sorghum and have already made the cultivar available. It is seen as an ideal crop for cellulosic biofuels and co-production of feed (here).

Crop scientists are also succeeding in increasing the biomass yield of energy crops. So far they succeeded for sorghum (earlier post and here), with new major partnerships focusing on this same plant, seen by many as an ideal biofuel crop (more here). Crops with higher sugar content (sweet sorghum) that nonetheless thrive in more arid conditions have been developed and are being test-grown with ethanol production in mind (see here and here). Sticking to sorghum, scientists at Texas A&M University's Agricultural Experiment Station (TAES) are breeding a drought tolerant sorghum that may yield between 37 and 50 tons of dry biomass per hectare (15 to 20 tons per acre) (earlier post).

In a special case, researchers created a corn crop which already contains the enzymes needed to convert its biomass into fuels. This is an example of radical 'third generation' crops. The scientists relied on the emerging field of synthetic biology to discover the principles needed to allow for the design of the crop (earlier post). For his part, the most well known personality in the field of synthetic biology and genomics, Craig Venter, has partnered with the Asiatic Center for Genome Technology to sequence the genome of palm oil trees, which will lead to a crop more suitable for the biofuels industry (here). Norman Borlaug is sequencing cassava, a plant already used for efficient first generation biofuels, but which can be improved further by increasing its starch content (previous post).

Finally, in what must be seen as a breakthrough of major importance, scientists succeeded in overcoming the problem of acidic soils by designing a crop (sorghum) that can grow in such an environment. Half of the world's soils are acidic, the bulk of them in the tropics and sub-tropics. This crop and similar ones promise to make available a very large part of the world's land earlier deemed largely problematic for agriculture (more here).

This is just a short overview of the potential of new breeding, engineering and sequencing techniques that are being increasingly used to make designer crops. Note that not all of these are transgenic; molecular breeding techniques simply make it more easy to select robust crops and allows their release in a matter of months, instead of years.

These developments are being replicated in the design of food crops. If both sectors (food and fuel crops) continue to deliver breakthroughs, ever less land will be required to grow both food and energy. This may increase the initial estimations of the long term biomass potential (see above), because these projections did not take into account advancements in plant biology and biotechnology.

The use of such dedicated energy crops makes an impact on both its carbon and energy balance. With higher yields and easier bioconversion, less energy is needed to grow, harvest and transform a given amount of biomass.

A particular development in plant biology must be mentioned, because it takes us straight to the 'fourth generation' of biofuels. Two teams of scientists recently announced they have succeeded in designing trees that store significantly more carbon dioxide than their ordinary counter parts. The feat has been achieved for eucalyptus (earlier post), a prime biomass crop suitable for cultivation in the tropics , and for Dahurian Larch (here), found in Northeastern Asia and Siberia.

In fourth generation production systems, biomass crops are seen as efficient 'carbon capturing' machines that take CO2 out of the atmosphere and lock it up in their branches, trunks and leaves. The carbon-rich biomass is then converted into fuel and gases by means of second generation techniques. Crucially, before, during or after the bioconversion process, the carbon dioxide is captured by utilizing so-called pre-combustion, oxyfuel or post-combustion processes. The greenhouse gas is then geosequestered - stored in depleted oil and gas fields, in unmineable coal seams or in saline aquifers, where it stays locked up for hundreds, possibly thousands of years.

The resulting fuels and gases are not only renewable, they are also effectively carbon-negative. Only the utilization of biomass allows for the conception of carbon-negative energy; all other renewables (wind, solar, etc) are all carbon-neutral at best, carbon-positive in practise. Fourth generation biofuels instead take historic CO2 emissions out of the atmosphere. They are tools to clean up our dirty past.

According to scientists who looked at this concept of 'bio-energy with carbon storage' (BECS) within the context of a strategy to counter 'abrupt climate change', these systems, if applied on a global scale, can take us back to pre-industrial levels of atmospheric CO2. The concept would be more efficient than techniques that are limited to scrubbing CO2 out of the atmosphere without tackling the source of the problem: the combustion of fossil fuels. BECS intervenes at the source and replaces fossil fuels with renewable biomass; the systems scrub CO2 out of the atmosphere while delivering clean energy. As such, they are seen as one of the only low-risk geo-engineering methods that could help us tackle climate change without powering down our societies. (An overview of BECS systems can be found at the Abrupt Climate Change Strategy group, which has researched the basics: see their liberary, here).

The fact that fast-growing, high yielding trees are being designed that sequester more carbon dioxide, makes the promise of carbon-negative biofuels and bioenergy even more interesting.

Developments in 'carbon capture and storage' (CCS) technologies are being made in the coal industry. But when these techniques are applied to biomass, a new dimension opens up: that of decentralised production. In the case of coal, the application of CCS is tied to the location of coal plants and sequestration sites, or to the presence of mineable coal deposits and CO2 burial sites. In the first case, this means geosequestration will occur relatively close to inhabited places (cities). This presents risks.

Biomass on the contrary can be grown virtually anywhere. So CCS applied to biomass allows for an ideal scenario: the production of biomass close to a sequestration site that is far away from inhabited regions (many of these sites have already been identified). The carbon-negative fuel would be produced locally and then shipped to end users. Alternatively, biomass can be densified locally (pellets, bio-oil) and then transported to CCS facilities (either coal plants coupled to CCS where the biomass can be co-fired, or dedicated bioenergy plants). In any case, bioenergy with carbon storage allows for a decentralised approach, which is less likely the case for coal.

These fourth generation biofuels - fuel production coupled to CCS - are not a fantasy. The first step towards them is already being taken. Recently a the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (DOE/NETL) and the U.S. Air Force (USAF) released a report which focused on the production of fuels made from combining the liquefaction of both coal and biomass, and then coupling the system to carbon sequestration technologies. It's a mouthful, but the concept comes down to: coal+biomass-to-liquids (CBTL) + carbon capture and storage (CCS), or CBTL+CCS (more here). The CBTL process consists of the production of so-called synthetic fuels, obtained from the gasification of feedstock, with the gas then liquefied via Fischer-Tropsch synthesis into an ultra-clean synthetic fuel. During the process, carbon dioxide is captured and then stored in geological formations such as depleted oil and gas fields or saline aquifers. The project is now being carried out by a team of Princeton researchers (earlier post). This is a first concrete project en route to pure biomass based carbon-negative synthetic fuels.

In conclusion, biofuel technologies are evolving rapidly. They have received some bad press because current production is dominated by inefficient first generation techniques that exert pressures on food markets and that present environmental problems. But a combination of plant biology, carbon capture techniques and novel bioconversion processes is set to open an era of fuels that will not only be abundant, highly energy efficient and clean, but that will be the single biggest weapon in the fight against climate change. Fourth generation carbon-negative biofuels are actually machines that take CO2 out of the atmosphere; they clean up our dirty past.

Biopact: A closer look at the revolutionary coal+biomass-to-liquids with carbon storage project - September 13, 2007

Biopact: Scientists propose artificial trees to scrub CO2 out of the atmosphere - but the real thing could be smarter - October 04, 2007

Biopact: NETL and USAF release feasibility study for conceptual Coal+Biomass-to-Liquids facility - August 30, 2007

Biopact: Japanese scientists develop hybrid larch trees with 30% greater carbon sink capacity - October 03, 2007

Biopact: U.S. scientists develop drought tolerant sorghum for biofuels - May 21, 2007

Biopact: Ceres and TAES team up to develop high-biomass sorghum for next-generation biofuels - October 01, 2007

Biopact: Third generation biofuels: scientists patent corn variety with embedded cellulase enzymes - May 05, 2007

Biopact: Sequencing the cassava genome to boost biofuel potential - September 01, 2006

Biopact: Synthetic Genomics and Asiatic Centre for Genome Technology to sequence oil palm genome - July 11, 2007

Biopact: Major breakthrough: researchers engineer sorghum that beats aluminum toxicity - August 27, 2007

Biopact: Mapping sorghum's genome to create robust biomass crops - June 24, 2007

Biopact: Capiz region to trial high yield sweet sorghum for ethanol - March 30, 2007

Biopact: Sun Grant Initiative funds 17 bioenergy research projects - August 20, 2007

Biopact: Scientists release new low-lignin sorghums: ideal for biofuel and feed - September 10, 2007

Biopact: Celebrity spotting: Marc Van Montagu and GM energy crops - July 05, 2007

Biopact: Scientists develop low-lignin eucalyptus trees that store more CO2, provide more cellulose for biofuels - September 17, 2007

Biopact: World Energy Council: advanced biofuels can replace over 40% of petrofuels by 2050, most promising solution to reduce GHG emissions - October 08, 2007

Biopact: IEA report: bioenergy can meet 20 to 50% of world's future energy demand - September 12, 2007

Biopact: Report: synthetic biofuels (BtL) and bioenergy efficient, competitive and sustainable in Germany - September 22, 2007

Article continues

World Energy Council: advanced biofuels can replace over 40% of petrofuels by 2050, most promising solution to reduce GHG emissions

Passenger vehicle transportation and aviation are expected to remain dependent on oil for the foreseeable future, but alternative fuels and propulsion systems will increase their penetration considerably, a study published by the World Energy Council (WEC) says. The WEC report on 'Transport Technologies and Policy Scenarios to 2050' outlines the results of an analysis conducted by a group of international WEC transport experts and gives concrete policy recommendations to develop sustainable transport systems. The experts identified next-generation biofuels as the most promising option to ensure a transition towards sustainable mobility.

The study looks at the prospects for alternative liquid fuels, hydrogen, (plug-in) hybrids, electric vehicles and other technologies. For non-liquid fuels and propulsion technologies (hydrogen, battery-electric cars) biomass is seen as a leading renewable primary energy source to be used for the production of renewable hydrogen and green electricity.

Large potential for next-generation biofuels
In 2050, gasoline and diesel are likely to remain the dominant fuels, the study states, but the portion of advanced biofuels such as biomass-to-liquids (BTL, also known as 'synthetic biofuels') and cellulosic ethanol are set to grow considerably.

Theoretical fossil energy reduction potential ratio of different fuels and propulsion technologies.
The study sees the highest potential for reduction in petroleum and fossil energy, and therefore greenhouse gases, in biofuels. Under a set of breakthrough scenarios biofuels can replace 300% of all petrofuels, but a more likely scenario is a 50% global penetration of BTL in diesel fuel with a 50% overall diesel passenger vehicle penetration in 2050 and a total BTL plant efficiency of 60%. This would result in a reduction of 22.4% of all petroleum used in transport by 2050. Cellulosic ethanol can replace 21.6% of global fossil transport fuels. Hybrids, plug-in hybrids, electric vehicles and fuel cell vehicles have a far smaller reduction potential (table, click to enlarge).

The WEC also sees BTL fuels and cellulosic ethanol achieving the greatest reductions in GHG emissions as they reduce CO2 emissions by up to 90% (graph, click to enlarge). Other synthetic fuels such as gas-to-liquids (GTL) and coal-to-liquids (CTL) increase accessibility and availability by diversifying the fuel supply base and, in particular with GTL, are already available and economically viable. These fuels have the same physical properties as BTL and therefore exhibit the same advantages in distribution and use.

On a life cycle basis, GHG emissions from GTL are comparable to those from conventional diesel fuel. GHG emissions from CTL without carbon capture and storage are approximately double those from conventional diesel fuel. The development and production of CTL and GTL also contribute to technological experience and understanding of synthetic fuels in general, which will benefit the development of BTL in the long term.

In particular, the WEC sees significant benefits in BTL fuels. Their contribution to reduced petroleum consumption is immediate, they can be used in new and existing vehicles, they are not limited by new infrastructure requirements and they can contribute in all transport sectors which consume liquid fuels (land passenger and freight as well as shipping and aviation). Other advanced biofuels are under development and may present viable long-term options with lower primary energy consumption.

Due to their currently increasing penetration and the investments made in their production, conventional first generation biofuels such as ethanol from sugar cane or corn and biodiesel (or hydro-treated vegetable oil, which has similar properties to BTL) from oil-bearing plants can be expected to retain some market share in the long term.

Since there is a large number of biofuels in production or under investigation, it is important to ensure the most efficient solutions prevail. For a longterm sustainable penetration, biofuels must be drawn into production according to market forces and viable, consistently applied GHG intensity and sustainability standards, without discrimination, rather than chosen according to government mandates. The WEC sees global free trade in biofuels as 'essential':
Further support for the market through free global trade in biofuels is essential, both to ensure the most energetically effective biofuels have access to the market and to assist in the economic and energy development of lower income countries.
Propulsion technologies
The WEC expects internal combustion engines (ICEs) to remain dominant, but advanced concepts for internal combustion will emerge, including processes such as homogeneous charge compression ignition (HCCI), with the objective of combining the advantages of diesel and gasoline:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Hydrogen fuel and fuel cell vehicles are expected to gain a market foothold by 2035 and grow towards 2050. On-board electric power utilisation in personal transport will also increase, in particular in OECD and richer developing countries, which have more economic capacity to absorb the cost premium over conventional vehicle concepts.

This will initially be manifested as increased hybridisation. A significant presence of pure electric vehicles powered by batteries and/or fuel cells is a potential scenario, assuming that progress on the necessary technologies and their costs is sufficient to enable a commercially viable product.

Improvements in efficiency and reductions in consumption will likely remain based on the diesel engine, which is currently dominant in this sector.

Innovations in engine performance will be shared with the passenger vehicle diesel sector and include variable valve timing and new combustion techniques such as HCCI. Hybridisation, which has already penetrated in certain applications, can be expected to increase in popularity. In particular, urban buses have found a niche hybrid segment, which will likely expand. Certain short-haul and even long-haul trucks may also be considered for some type of hybridisation, due to the significant amounts of braking energy that can be recuperated. Alternative and biofuels also apply to this sector.

Aviation fuels
In aviation, engine and materials technologies and flight management measures will potentially be available which can improve aircraft efficiency by over 30%. Set against the expected 200% growth in air travel by 2050, efficiency improvements can serve to dampen the projected increase in consumption.

Aviation fuel presents a particular opportunity for alternative fuels, since aviation fuel (kerosene) can be, and is already, made using the synthetic Fischer-Tropsch process, which can use gas, coal or biomass as a feedstock (GTL, CTL and BTL fuels).

Hydrogen and fuel cells
One particular technology that holds significant longterm potential for reduction in fossil energy consumption, as well as CO2 and criteria exhaust emissions, is hydrogen, which offers the long-term promise of emissions-free driving. Hydrogen and fuel cells have the potential to contribute significantly in the passenger vehicle sector if the substantial challenges of fuel cell cost, hydrogen storage, hydrogen production and hydrogen delivery can be overcome.

Current fuel cell vehicle concepts demonstrate that the potential exists for fuel cell vehicles to provide convenient personal transport in the kind of vehicles to which consumers are accustomed. Therefore, the motivation to overcome the obstacles mentioned above is significant and solutions are being developed by manufacturers, engineers and governments.

The commercial vehicle sector appears to have less potential in applying hydrogen and fuel cell technology, due in part to the large space necessary for fuel storage, especially on long-haul trucks. However, the eventual maturity of hydrogen technology in the passenger vehicle sector is a foundation on which this sector may also be able to build in the long term, and indeed the use of fuel cells as auxiliary power units in trucks has already been tested.

A long-term hydrogen strategy must be based on sustainable hydrogen production and consider the well-to-wheel energy and emissions in relation to conventional forms of propulsion. Local production of hydrogen using renewable energy is already being developed and applied in many regions. However, for hydrogen fuel to comprise a substantial proportion of the transportation market, the energy required to produce it must be derived from the general power grid.

Therefore, a hydrogen economy must go hand in hand with widespread sustainable power generation to provide a successful future scenario. Assuming adequate supply, significant technical advances and investments are necessary in the distribution and delivery of hydrogen fuel.

Battery technologies
Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) have potentially greater energy savings potential than hydrogen fuel cells, due to the higher energy efficiency of batteries. However, battery technology and cost must improve substantially to provide the performance, range and affordability demanded by consumers. In particular, significant increases in energy storage density are required in order to store sufficient energy on board for adequate vehicle range, if BEVs are to penetrate the mainstream.

Electric powertrains are initially likely to make advances in small vehicles for city driving (city electric vehicle – CEV), in which range and top performance are of lesser importance and since economic incentives for low emission vehicles in cities are becoming more popular. A number of commercial companies are already offering vehicles to this CEV niche whilst others are offering electric vehicles as a sporty premium product.

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) offer most of the benefits of BEVs with the convenience and range of conventional internal combustion engines. These combine a reduced ICE and a high power battery, such that pure electric driving is possible over a range high enough for many daily applications, allowing overnight charging from an electric socket.

The presence of two full powertrains in a PHEV means that for this technology to become viable for the mass market, substantial reductions in the cost of the electric powertrain are essential. For both BEVs and PHEVs, enhanced battery durability for these deep discharge applications (as opposed to shallow discharge in current hybrids) is necessary, in order for the battery to last as long as an expected vehicle lifetime of many years.

Recommendations for sustainable mobility
According to the WEC, policymakers must first agree on the overall objective, whether it be a reduction in energy consumption or greenhouse gas emissions. From there, technological development must be complemented by rational policy that will encourage and enable the technologies to emerge. The common thread in policymaking is that the market must be allowed to identify and advance the most efficient methods to reach the stated objective. Conversely, selecting specific technologies through direct mandates or beneficial treatment runs the strong risk of selecting inappropriate technologies and therefore not contributing adequately to the objective.

1. An integrated approach: in order to meet the defined objective, an integrated approach is the most efficient overall concept, which applies a holistic methodology rather than concentrating only on one element of a solution, for example technologies. The integrated approach incorporates all relevant stakeholders in the chain of energy production and use, to apply effective energy saving measures and technologies. These stakeholders include actors in equipment manufacturing, commercial businesses, consumers and policymakers.

The approach addresses the behaviour of business and private consumers in their vehicle purchasing decisions, vehicle use and behaviour. Fuel suppliers have a role due to the energy content of their fuels. The technology and investment applied by the equipment manufacturers determines the efficiency of their vehicles. Governments and other policymaking bodies have a responsibility for the transportation infrastructure and environment as well as the incentive structure for certain types of public behaviour. It must be ensured that for all stakeholders a productive market is in place which financially rewards behaviour leading to higher efficiency.
2. Incentives for takeholders:
2.1. Vehicle manufacturers: vehicle, engine and component technologies do indeed comprise a major element of this approach. Therefore, effective policy can take the form of incentives through the tax system for fuel and vehicle technologies which reduce energy consumption or GHG emissions. Such incentives must be applied in a way that provides a consistent incentive to reduce consumption or GHG emissions (depending on the priority objective). For example, a tax that varies in a proportional fashion with vehicle consumption rating creates such an incentive. The marginal tax level should be sufficient to provide an incentive to purchase a vehicle despite the higher initial cost of its efficiency technologies, but not so high as to distort the market or make purchases unaffordable. Such taxes need not mean a higher overall tax burden, since taxes based on consumption or emissions can be offset by reductions in other taxes, for example by replacing vehicle registration taxes.

In addition, government financial support for bringing new technologies to market is appropriate if objectively assessed and effectively targeted. Such support can be provided as an investment at any point in the technology value chain, from basic research, product development, production facilities, entrepreneurship and product marketing. It should be directed to those products and the point in the value chain which is objectively assessed to provide the greatest incremental leverage in meeting the long- term energy objective compared to incremental investment.

2.2. Infrastructures: Governments should also invest in infrastructure for both private and public transport to minimise congestion, ensure convenience and mobility, support economic growth and contribute to the energy objectives.

2.3. Consumers: consumers should be educated as to the consequences of their transportation decisions, in particular by sufficient labelling of, and information on, personal vehicles, fuels and public transport options. In addition, consumer education is required on the efficiency of use of energy consuming products. In transportation this specifically refers to driving style in personal and commercial vehicles, in which less aggressive driving, more efficient gear changes, predictive behaviour (when approaching traffic lights or congestion) and switching off when idle can reduce per-vehicle consumption significantly.

2.4. Fuel suppliers: The fossil energy and carbon content of fuels is a further element in total energy consumption. As is currently under discussion in the EU, the US Federal Government and at the US state level (California), carbon intensity standards for transportation fuels are being developed. These policies set targets for reducing the fossil and carbon content of fuels and the fuel suppliers will select the most efficient methods for reducing CO2 emissions. This can be expected to promote the use of biofuels with low well-to-wheel CO2 emissions, as well as reduce the energy intensity of producing conventional and alternative fuels. Incentives through the tax system or otherwise can also apply to fuels, as long as these are applied consistently, without discrimination and proportional to the energy or environmental objective that is being sought.
3. Standards
Common standards within and between major markets are essential to support technical and market development. In particular, standards relating to conventional and alternative fuels are a key element in energy and climate policy, including the carbon intensity standards described above. Standards relating to conventional, alternative and biofuels are already in place and include quality norms which ensure that the fuels are compatible with the existing vehicle stock and with new vehicles.

Applied to biofuels, these regulate their physical and chemical characteristics and the proportion that can be blended with petroleum based fuels. They should remain sufficiently rigorous to ensure increased penetration of biofuels is consistent with vehicle reliability. Ideally, such standards should be aligned between major global markets. In addition, standards for biofuels should include sustainability criteria relating to land use and social factors, which are developed and applied consistently and without discrimination to all biofuels.

These standards thereby support the market in its economic selection of the most efficient solutions whilst contributing to the achievement of the energy objective. Indeed, such standards are being considered in parallel to fuel quality and carbon intensity.

Further support for the market through free global trade in biofuels is essential, both to ensure the most energetically effective biofuels have access to the market and to assist in the economic and energy development of lower income countries.
The latter point is very important because with it the WEC joins those who call for the abolishment of the current tariffs in place in the EU and the US, which prevent much more efficient and sustainable biofuels produced in the South to enter the market. With advanced biofuels, biomass productivity and cost of the primary feedstocks remains a key factor; countries in the tropics and the semi-tropics have many agro-ecological advantages here, which they should be allowed to exploit to the fullest. This way, biofuels can not only become a strong weapon in the fight against climate change, but a tool for development in poor countries.

Applying the integrated approach
The integrated approach incorporates all the measures described above and therefore commits all stakeholders to contribute to achieving the energy solution. Each element of the approach can be a stand-alone item. However, the approach achieves the most by ensuring that the task of reducing energy consumption is equitably distributed between the sectors and stakeholders involved.

Since the costs of energy reduction are different in each sector, and indeed vary between measures applied within each sector, the most effective overall result is achieved by concentrating on the least-cost measures.

Theoretically, the ideal way to determine the least cost methods and to bring them into being is to ensure a consistent economic incentive for energy reduction across all sectors. Due to the complexity of each sector and the different ways in which price signals are communicated (through vehicles, fuels, ticket prices etc), such a consistent incentive is difficult to identify. It has been suggested by economists and policymakers that carbon taxes or emissions trading schemes can be an effective solution and indeed emissions trading has been introduced in the European Union to cover GHG emissions from certain sectors.

In the absence of such a consistent market signal, any policy decisions which incentivise or regulate actions in the transport sector should be subject to independent and objective assessments. It must be recognised that in the long term, micromanagement of energy policy will create overcomplexity andinefficiency and all policy options must support a longterm strategy to ensure a functioning market, which is then incentivised and enabled to achieve the energy objectives. This ensures that the burden is shared equitably between sectors, that the costs for society are minimised and that the most effective and efficient measures are identified and receive encouragement.

The methods described by the WEC support the integrated approach and ensure that the energy objective is targeted in a way that brings the maximum benefit to users of transport and to society as a whole. This promotes in the most effective way the achievement of sustainable energy for all.

World Energy Council: Transport Technologies and Policy Scenarios to 2050 [*.pdf], October 2007.

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Scientists succeed in producing ethanol from highly polluting olive mill wastewater

Scientists from the Department of Biotechnology and Biological Sciences, at the Faculty of Science of the Hashemite University in Jordan have succeeded in pretreating olive mill wastewater by means of enzymes found in a fungus, in such a way that it becomes a promising substrate for the production of bioethanol.

Highly polluting olive mill wastewater (OMW) generated by the olive oil extraction process is the main waste product of this large industry. Approximately 54 billion liters of OMW are produced annually worldwide with the majority of it being produced in the Mediterranean basin.

The uncontrolled disposal of OMW is becoming a serious environmental problem, due to its high organic chemical oxygen demand (COD) concentration, and because of its high content of microbial growth-inhibiting compounds, such as phenolic compounds and tannins. The improper disposal of OMW to the environment or to domestic wastewater treatment plants is prohibited due to its toxicity to microorganisms, and also because of its potential threat to surface and groundwater. However, due to the current lack of appropriate alternative technologies to properly treat OMW, most of the wastewater in the Mediterranean area is discharged directly into sewer systems and water streams or concentrated in evaportation ponds where it degrades and releases greenhouse gas emissions.

M. I. Massadeh N. Modallal from Jordan's Hashemite University found OMW can be upgraded by removing or reducing its phenolic compounds after which its carbohydrate fraction can be used as a substrate to produce biofuels. They report their findings in this week's issue of Energy & Fuels.

Phenolic compounds can be degraded by a few microorganisms, such as white-rot fungi, which produce a variety of enzymes that are capable of oxidizing phenols. The scientists investigated the capability of Pleurotus sajor-caju (often used in mycoremediation solutions) to degrade phenols of OMW preconditioned by different treatments, namely, thermally processing (at 100 °C) diluted and undiluted OMW and thermally processing pretreated OMW with hydrogen peroxide:
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Results showed that the fungi removed phenolic compounds from OMW cultures, under all different conditions examined. The degradation of phenols reached up to 68% for the thermally processed OMW, 50% for the diluted OMW, 53% for the thermally processed OMW treated with hydrogen peroxide, and 58% for the thermally processed undiluted OMW.

The impact of such biological conversion upon lowering the phenols content of OMW was tested by yeast fermentation of the product to produce ethanol because yeast cells are very sensitive to a high phenol concentration.

Ethanol production was enhanced by the pretreatment of OMW with Pleurotus sajor-caju. The maximum ethanol production of 14.2 g/L was obtained after 48 hours of yeast fermentation using 50% diluted OMW that was thermally processed and pretreated with the microorganism.

According to the results obtained, bioconverted OMW by Pleurotus sajor-caju is a promising substrate for the bioethanol production process, with additional benefits of its use with regard to environmental and economical aspects.

Approximately, 1.8 million tons of olive oil are produced annually worldwide where the majority (98%) of it is produced in the Mediterranean basin. If the 54 billion liters of OMW resulting from this industry were to be converted into ethanol using the new method, some 650 million liters of bioethanol could be produced, while solving a major environmental problem.


M. I. Massadeh and N. Modallal, "Ethanol Production from Olive Mill Wastewater (OMW) Pretreated with Pleurotus sajor-caju", Energy & Fuels, ASAP Article, October 5, 2007, doi: 10.1021/ef7004145

Basheer Sobhi, Sabbah Isam, Yazbek Ahmad, Haj Jacob, Saleeba
Ahlam, "Reducing the Environmental Impact of Olive Mill Wastewater in Jordan, Palestine and Israel" [*.pdf], R&D Center, the Galilee Society.

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Craig Venter to announce creation of first synthetic life form

According to The Guardian Dr Craig Venter, the DNA researcher involved in the race to decipher the human genetic code, has built a synthetic chromosome out of laboratory chemicals and is poised to announce the creation of the first new artificial life form on Earth.

The announcement, which is expected within weeks and could come as early as today at the annual meeting of his scientific institute in San Diego, California, will herald a giant leap forward in the development of designer genomes. It is certain to provoke heated debate about the ethics of creating new species.

Synthetic biology could unlock the door to new bioenergy sources and techniques to combat global warming (earlier post, here, and here), but can also be used for potentially threatening applications, such as the production of bio-weapons. Bio-ethicists say the breakthrough presents an enormous challenge to society to debate the risks involved.
[This is] a very important philosophical step in the history of our species. We are going from reading our genetic code to the ability to write it. That gives us the hypothetical ability to do things never contemplated before. - Dr Craig Venter
The Guardian reveals that a team of 20 top scientists assembled by Venter, led by the Nobel laureate Hamilton Smith, has already constructed a synthetic chromosome, a feat of virtuoso bio-engineering never previously achieved. Using lab-made chemicals, they have painstakingly stitched together a chromosome that is 381 genes long and contains 580,000 base pairs of genetic code.

The DNA sequence is based on the bacterium Mycoplasma genitalium (image) which the team pared down to the bare essentials needed to support life, removing a fifth of its genetic make-up. The wholly synthetically reconstructed chromosome, which the team have christened Mycoplasma laboratorium, has been watermarked with inks for easy recognition.

It is then transplanted into a living bacterial cell and in the final stage of the process it is expected to take control of the cell and in effect become a new life form. The team of scientists has already successfully transplanted the genome of one type of bacterium into the cell of another, effectively changing the cell's species (earlier post). Dr Venter said he was '100% confident' the same technique would work for the artificially created chromosome.

The new life form will depend for its ability to replicate itself and metabolise on the molecular machinery of the cell into which it has been injected, and in that sense it will not be a wholly synthetic life form. However, its DNA will be artificial, and it is the DNA that controls the cell and is credited with being the building block of life:
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Dr Venter said he had carried out an ethical review before completing the experiment. 'We feel that this is good science,' he said. He has further heightened the controversy surrounding his potential breakthrough by applying for a patent for the synthetic bacterium (earlier post).

Bio-ethicists say the move presents an enormous challenge to society to debate the risks involved.
Governments, and society in general, is way behind the ball. This is a wake-up call - what does it mean to create new life forms in a test-tube? [Venter is creating a] chassis on which you could build almost anything. It could be a contribution to humanity such as new drugs or a huge threat to humanity such as bio-weapons. - Pat Mooney, director of a Canadian bioethics organisation, ETC group
Dr Venter believes designer genomes have enormous positive potential if properly regulated. In the long-term, he hopes they could lead to alternative energy sources previously unthinkable. Bacteria could be created, he speculates, that could help mop up excessive carbon dioxide, thus contributing to the solution to global warming, or produce biofuels such as butane or propane made entirely from sugar.
We are not afraid to take on things that are important just because they stimulate thinking. We are dealing in big ideas. We are trying to create a new value system for life. When dealing at this scale, you can't expect everybody to be happy. - Dr Craig Venter
Earlier some of the world's leading scientists released a manifesto - the Ilulissat Statement - in which they call for more support for the emerging field of synthetic biology.

The Guardian: I am creating artificial life, declares US gene pioneer - October 8, 2007.

Biopact: Breakthrough in synthetic biology: scientists synthesize DNA-based memory in yeast cells, guided by mathematical model - September 17, 2007

Biopact: Scientists call for global push to advance synthetic biology - biofuels to benefit - June 25, 2007

Biopact: Scientists take major step towards 'synthetic life': first bacterial genome transplantation changing one species to another - June 29, 2007

Biopact: Scientists patent synthetic life - promise for 'endless' biofuels - June 09, 2007

Biopact: Synthetic Genomics and Asiatic Centre for Genome Technology to sequence oil palm genome - July 11, 2007

Biopact: Agrivida and Codon Devices to partner on third-generation biofuels - August 03, 2007

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