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    Biopact is moving to a new server this weekend, so at times the site may be difficult to access or temporarily offline. We should be up and running again on Monday. Biopact - October 27, 2007.

    U.S. oil prices and Brent crude rocketed to all-time highs again on a record-low dollar, tensions in the Middle East and worries over energy supply shortages ahead of the northern hemisphere's winter. Now even wealthy countries like South Korea are warning that the record prices will damage economic growth. In the developing world, the situation is outright catastrophic. Korea Times - October 26, 2007.

    Ethablog's Henrique Oliveira, a young Brazilian biofuels business expert, is back online. From April to September 2007, he traveled around Brazil comparing the Brazilian and American biofuels markets. In August he was joined by Tom MacDonald, senior alcohol fuels specialist with the California Energy Commission. Henrique reports about his trip with a series of photo essays. EthaBlog - October 24, 2007.

    Italy's Enel is to invest around €400 mln in carbon capture and storage and is looking now for a suitable site to store CO2 underground. Enel's vision of coal's future is one in which coal is used to produce power, to produce ash and gypsum as a by-product for cement, hydrogen as a by-product of coal gasification and CO2 which is stored underground. Carbon capture and storage techniques can be applied to biomass and biofuels, resulting in carbon-negative energy. Reuters - October 22, 2007.

    Gate Petroleum Co. is planning to build a 55 million-gallon liquid biofuels terminal in Jacksonville, Florida. The terminal is expected to cost $90 million and will be the first in the state designed primarily for biofuels. It will receive and ship ethanol and biodiesel via rail, ship and truck and provide storage for Gate and for third parties. The biofuels terminal is set to open in 2010. Florida Times-Union - October 19, 2007.

    China Holdings Inc., through its controlled subsidiary China Power Inc., signed a development contract with the HeBei Province local government for the rights to develop and construct 50 MW of biomass renewable energy projects utilizing straw. The projects have a total expected annual power generating capacity of 400 million kWh and expected annual revenues of approximately US$33.3 million. Total investment in the projects is approximately US$77.2 million, 35 percent in cash and 65 percent from China-based bank loans with preferred interest rates with government policy protection for the biomass renewable energy projects. Full production is expected in about two years. China Holdings - October 18, 2007.

    Canadian Bionenergy Corporation, supplier of biodiesel in Canada, has announced an agreement with Renewable Energy Group, Inc. to partner in the construction of a biodiesel production facility near Edmonton, Alberta. The company broke ground yesterday on the construction of the facility with an expected capacity of 225 million litres (60 million gallons) per year of biodiesel. Together, the companies also intend to forge a strategic marketing alliance to better serve the North American marketplace by supplying biodiesel blends and industrial methyl esters. Canadian Bioenergy - October 17, 2007.

    Leading experts in organic solar cells say the field is being damaged by questionable reports about ever bigger efficiency claims, leading the community into an endless and dangerous tendency to outbid the last report. In reality these solar cells still show low efficiencies that will need to improve significantly before they become a success. To counter the hype, scientists call on the community to press for independent verification of claimed efficiencies. Biopact sees a similar trend in the field of biofuels from algae, in which press releases containing unrealistic yield projections and 'breakthroughs' are released almost monthly. Eurekalert - October 16, 2007.

    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.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Researchers find genetically engineered corn could affect aquatic ecosystems

A study by an Indiana University environmental science professor and several colleagues suggests a widely planted variety of genetically engineered corn - also used to produce ethanol - has the potential to harm aquatic ecosystems. The study is being published online this week by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers, including Todd V. Royer, an assistant professor in the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs, established that pollen and other plant parts containing toxins from genetically engineered Bt corn are washing into streams near cornfields.

They also conducted laboratory trials that found consumption of Bt corn byproducts produced increased mortality and reduced growth in caddisflies, aquatic insects that are related to the pests targeted by the toxin in Bt corn.

Caddisflies are a food resource for higher organisms like fish and amphibians. If the goal is to have healthy, functioning ecosystems, there is a need to protect all the parts. Water resources are something populations depend on greatly.

Bt corn is engineered to include a gene from the micro-organism Bacillus thuringiensis, which produces a toxin that protects the crop from pests, in particular the European corn borer. It was licensed for use in 1996 and quickly gained popularity. In 2006, around 35 percent of corn acreage planted in the U.S. was genetically modified, the study says, citing U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

Before licensing Bt corn, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency conducted trials to test its impact on water biota. But it used Daphnia, a crustacean commonly used for toxicity tests, and not insects that are more closely related to the target pests:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Royer emphasizes that, if there are unintended consequences of planting genetically engineered crops, farmers shouldn't be held responsible. In a competitive agricultural economy, producers have to use the best technologies they can get.
Every new technology comes with some benefits and some risks. I think probably the risks associated with widespread planting of Bt corn were not fully assessed. - Todd V. Royer, assistant professor in the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs
There was a public flap over the growing use of Bt corn in 1999, when a report indicated it might harm monarch butterflies. But studies coordinated by the government's Agriculture Research Service and published in PNAS concluded there was not a significant threat to monarchs. Around that time, Royer said, he and his colleagues wondered whether the toxin from Bt corn was getting into streams near cornfields; and, if so, whether it could have an impact on aquatic insects.

Their research, conducted in 2005 and 2006 in an intensely farmed region of northern Indiana, measured inputs of Bt corn pollen and corn byproducts (e.g., leaves and cobs) in 12 headwater streams, using litter traps to collect the materials. They also found corn pollen in the guts of certain caddisflies, showing they were feeding on corn pollen.

In laboratory trials, the researchers found caddisflies that were fed leaves from Bt corn had growth rates that were less than half those of caddisflies fed non-Bt corn litter. They also found that a different type of caddisfly had significantly increased mortality rates when exposed to Bt corn pollen at concentrations between two and three times the maximum found in the test sites.

Royer said there was considerable variation in the amount of corn pollen and byproducts found at study locations. And there is likely also to be significant geographical variation; farmers in Iowa and Illinois, for example, are planting more Bt corn than those in Indiana. The level of Bt corn pollen associated with increased mortality in caddisflies could potentially represent conditions in streams of the western Corn Belt.

Other principal investigators for the study were Emma Rosi-Marshall of Loyola University Chicago, Jennifer Tank of the University of Notre Dame and Matt Whiles of Southern Illinois University. It was funded by the National Science Foundation.

E. J. Rosi-Marshall, J. L. Tank, T. V. Royer, M. R. Whiles, M. Evans-White, C. Chambers, N. A. Griffiths, J. Pokelsek, and M. L. Stephen, "Toxins in transgenic crop byproducts may affect headwater stream ecosystems", Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci., 10.1073/pnas.0707177104, Published online before print October 8, 2007

Eurekalert: Study shows genetically engineered corn could affect aquatic ecosystems - October 8, 2007.

Biopact: GM field trials 'underestimate potential for cross-pollination' - study - June 01, 2007

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Study: adding small amount of dairy and meat to diet results in more efficient land use than full vegetarian diet

A low-fat vegetarian diet is very efficient in terms of how much land is needed to support it. But adding some dairy products and a limited amount of meat may actually increase this efficiency, researchers from Cornell University suggest.

Even though a moderate-fat plant-based diet with a little meat and dairy (red footprint) uses more land than the all-vegetarian diet (far left footprint), it feeds more people (is more efficient) because it uses more pasture land, which is widely available.
This counter-intuitive deduction stems from the findings of their new study, which concludes that if everyone in New York state followed a low-fat vegetarian diet, the state could directly support almost 50 percent more people, or about 32 percent of its population, agriculturally. With today's high-meat, high-dairy diet, the state is able to support directly only 22 percent of its population, say the researchers.

The study, published in the journal Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, is the first to examine the land requirements of complete diets. The researchers compared 42 diets with the same number of calories and a core of grains, fruits, vegetables and dairy products (using only foods that can be produced in New York state), but with varying amounts of meat (from none to 13.4 ounces daily) and fat (from 20 to 45 percent of calories) to determine each diet's 'agricultural land footprint'. They found a fivefold difference between the two extremes.
A person following a low-fat vegetarian diet, for example, will need less than half (0.44) an acre per person per year to produce their food. A high-fat diet with a lot of meat, on the other hand, needs 2.11 acres. Surprisingly, however, a vegetarian diet is not necessarily the most efficient in terms of land use. - Christian Peters, lead author, postdoctoral associate in crop and soil sciences
The reason for the lower land use efficiency of the all vegetarian diet is that fruits, vegetables and grains must be grown on high-quality cropland. Meat and dairy products from ruminant animals are supported by lower quality, but more widely available, land that can support pasture and hay. A large pool of such land is available in New York state because for sustainable use, most farmland requires a crop rotation with such perennial crops as pasture and hay.

Thus, although vegetarian diets in New York state may require less land per person, they use more high-valued land. While meat increases land-use requirements, diets including modest amounts of meat can feed more people than some higher fat vegetarian diets:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The key to conserving land and other resources with our diets is to limit the amount of meat we eat and for farmers to rely more on grazing and forages to feed their livestock, says Jennifer Wilkins, senior extension associate in nutritional sciences who specializes in the connection between local food systems and health and co-authored the study with Gary Fick, Cornell professor of crop and soil sciences. Consumers need to be aware that foods differ not only in their nutrient content but in the amount of resources required to produce, process, package and transport them, she adds.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average American ate approximately 5.8 ounces of meat and eggs a day in 2005. In order to reach the efficiency in land use of moderate-fat, vegetarian diets, the new study suggests that New Yorkers would need to limit their annual meat and egg intake to about 2 cooked ounces a day.

Christian J. Peters, Jennifer L. Wilkins and Gary W. Fick, "Testing a complete-diet model for estimating the land resource requirements of food consumption and agricultural carrying capacity: The New York State example", Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems (2007), 22: 145-153, doi:10.1017/S1742170507001767

Cornell Chronicles: Diet for small planet may be most efficient if it includes dairy and a little meat, Cornell researchers report - October 4, 2007.

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Petrobras: ethanol sales to exceed gasoline in Brazil by 2020, Petrobras to shrink oil business to focus on biofuels

According to Sergio Gabrielli, chief executive of state-run oil firm Petroleo Brasileiro SA (Petrobras), Brazil could become the first country to consume more biofuels than gasoline in the near future. Brazilians will use more ethanol than the petroleum fuel by 2020 when flex-fuel cars will dominate the country's car fleet. The rapid rise in the sale of flex-fuel cars, which can run on any mixture of gasoline and ethanol, is the main reason behind the expected jump in ethanol sales.

Across most of Brazil, ethanol made from sugar cane is considerably cheaper than gasoline on an energy equivalent basis. Record sugar harvests and ethanol output combined with very high oil prices have tilted the balance firmly in favor of the biofuel. The effect can be felt throughout the economy, as cheap ethanol has contributed to lowering inflation (earlier post). Moreover, as a highly efficient and environmentally sustainable biofuel, Brazilian ethanol is not confronted with the food versus fuel dilemma. In fact, world sugar prices have been falling despite record ethanol output (more here).

In theory, Brazil has the agro-ecological resources to produce enough biofuels to meet the entire world's gasoline demand (here). But some experts counter-intuitively fear abundant and cheap ethanol is becoming a problem for Brazil, as oversupplies cannot be absorbed fast enough by the local market. To avoid becoming a victim of its own success, the country must therefor urgently succeed in opening export markets (earlier post).

Petrobras wants to contribute to this effort. The company expects to become the first major oil producer to shift its core activities away from oil to open the era of bio-based fuels that can be grown over and over again. According to Gabrielli Petrobras is already 'announcing the shrinking' of its business of selling oil products.

Flex-fuel cars were introduced by major carmakers in Brazil in 2003, but sales have shot up spectacularly and now represent 85% of all new car sales (earlier post for 2006 figures). By 2020, Petrobras expects flex-fuel cars to make up 71.5% of Brazil's light-vehicle fleet, up from 12.8% in 2006. The fleet of gasoline cars is headed in the opposite direction, and is expected to shrink to 13.4% from 70.8% in the same period:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Considering a likely continuation of price advantages for ethanol in the Brazilian market, ethanol will represent 57% of the consumption of flex-fuel cars in 2020, Gabrielli added.

The company recently said it plans to enter ethanol production and will buy stakes in up to 40 Brazilian ethanol mills. The company has already laid out plans to become a major ethanol exporter. Recently it commenced implementing its long term plan's first phase by investing in 20 new ethanol plants (earlier post).

Brazil is the world's second-largest producer of ethanol behind the U.S., and is the world's largest exporter. It also has the highest usage of biofuels of any country, accounting for almost 18% of liquid transport fuel needs, Energy Minster Nelson Hubner said Thursday.

Petrobras expects Brazil to consume 29.6 billion liters of ethanol in 2020, up from 12.5 billion from the 2006-2007 harvest season, Gabrielli said. The country's ethanol exports in the same period are expected to jump to 16.5 billion liters from the current 3.4 billion.

Despite the increasing use of ethanol among light vehicles, Petrobras estimated diesel fuel will retain its position as Brazil's most widely used transport fuel across all vehicle types, accounting for 50.5% of automotive fuels consumed in Brazil in 2020, down slightly from 52.5% in 2006.

The government has mandated that diesel, used mainly by trucks and buses, must be mixed with 2% biodiesel from 2008, rising to a 5% blend from 2013. Biodiesel, made from plants such as soy, castor beans, jatropha or sunflower seeds, is expected to represent 2.6% of automotive fuel sales in 2020.

Compressed natural gas, or CNG, will increase its market share from 4.3% in 2006 to 7.4% in 2020, Petrobras reckons. Brazil and neighboring Argentina currently have the world's largest fleets of vehicles running on CNG.

Petrobras also expects hybrid vehicles to gain a foothold in the Brazilian market early in the next decade, but doesn't think they will start playing a significant role in Brazil for a long time. Hybrid vehicles combine combustion engines running on fuels with electric motors in order to save fuel and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

: Brazil's President Lula showcasing a tri-fuel vehicle capable of running on ethanol, gasoline, and natural gas.

Dow Jones Newswires: Ethanol Sales To Exceed Gasoline In Brazil By 2020-Petrobras - October 8, 2007.

Biopact: Petrobras starts approving joint ventures worth $1 billion to set up 20 new ethanol plants - September 27, 2007

Biopact: Flex-fuel vehicles in Brazil hit 2 million mark, make up 77% of the market - August 18, 2006

Biopact: Inflation in Brazil decreased more than expected on lower ethanol, food prices - September 21, 2007

Biopact: Experts: Brazil victim of its own biofuels success, as ethanol price collapses - September 21, 2007

Biopact: Brazilian biofuels can meet world's total gasoline needs - expert - May 21, 2007

Biopact: Brazilian ethanol is sustainable and has a very positive energy balance - IEA report - October 08, 2006

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Sempra Commodities signs marketing agreement with Etanalc S.A. for Brazilian ethanol

Sempra Commodities, the commodity-marketing unit of Sempra Energy, today announced it has executed a 20-year agreement with Etanalc S.A. to market the ethanol production from three new ethanol distilleries being developed by Etanalc.

Etanalc expects each ethanol plant will be supported by 30,000 hectares of land and 3 million tons of sugar-cane production, as well as co-generation of electrical energy, using the sugar-cane residue. The first three distilleries will be located in Pedro Afonso, Colinas and Guarai in the state of Tocantins (→FlashEarth), with ethanol production estimated to begin in 2010.

Under this agreement, Etanalc will provide Sempra Commodities with approximately 190 million gallons (4.5 million barrels equivalent) of ethanol per year, after the aforementioned three plants have been operating for three years. Sempra Commodities retains the right to purchase any ethanol produced above anticipated production. Sempra Commodities also expects to be a shareholder in the project:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::
As the United States and other countries embrace the development of all forms of renewable energy, we expect the ethanol market to grow rapidly and be a meaningful component of the global energy mix over the next decade. This represents a growth opportunity Sempra Commodities can actively pursue as part of the joint-venture the company is forming with the Royal Bank of Scotland Group. - Bryan Keogh, vice president and treasurer of Sempra Commodities
The joint venture, RBS-Sempra Commodities LLP, which was announced in July 2007 and is slated to be completed in the fourth quarter 2007, is expected to significantly expand Sempra Commodities' market opportunities with new commodity lines and a broader geographic reach.

Ethanol is a non-toxic, water-soluble and quickly biodegradable fuel that, when blended into gasoline, is effective in reducing motor-vehicle emissions. Ethanol comprises about 3.5 percent of the total annual U.S. gasoline consumption of 140 billion gallons. Approximately 46 percent of all U.S. gasoline contains some ethanol content, according to industry sources.

Headquartered in Rio de Janeiro, Etanalc S.A. was formed by Aureo Luiz de Castro for the purpose of developing this project. Brazil is the world's largest exporter of ethanol.

Based in Stamford, Connecticut, Sempra Commodities (comprised of Sempra Energy Trading LLC and its managed companies) is a leading participant in marketing and trading physical and financial commodity products, including natural gas, power, coal, oil, oil-related products and base metals. Sempra Commodities combines trading and risk-management experience with physical-commodity expertise to provide innovative solutions for its customers worldwide. Sempra Energy, based in San Diego, is a Fortune 500 energy services holding company with 2006 revenues of nearly $12 billion.

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Ohio company demonstrates first-ever use of vegetable oil in solid oxide fuel cell

Highly efficient fuel cells are readily associated with hydrogen. But the production of hydrogen is problematic because it requires significant amounts of energy from a primary source. Often this source is a fossil fuel, resulting in large carbon emissions and 'dirty' hydrogen. Moreover, the gas is difficult to store and distribute, and would require the creation of an entirely new distribution infrastructure. For this reason, more and more researchers are looking at utilizing much handier biofuels directly in fuel cells. Such cells are more efficient than gensets based on internal combustion engines or than power plants relying on steam and combustion turbines.

Ohio-based Technology Management, Inc. (TMI) now announces it has successfully demonstrated the world's first kilowatt-scale Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) system that generates electricity using vegetable oil from soybeans. The biofuel powered SOFC opens new perspectives for efficient decentralised power generation in off-grid locations utilizing locally produced fuels. This is especially interesting for the developing world.
We believe this is the first time a complete farm scale fuel cell system has ever been shown to convert unblended soybean oil into renewable electricity outside the laboratory. TMI is proud to be among the few companies in the world that are demonstrating that this revolutionary technology is not decades away, but just around the corner. - Benson Lee, president and CEO of Technology Management, Inc.
The project received contributions from the USDA Biomass Initiative Program, the Ohio Soybean Council and Ohio's Third Frontier Project, a $1.6 billion initiative that fosters the creation of high-paying jobs through innovation, research and development and the commercialization of next-generation products. TMI is collaborating with The Ohio State University's Biomass-to-Energy Program as part of an ongoing relationship examining the conversion of various biomass waste and organic matter into on-site electricity and marketable biofuels.

Solid oxide fuel cells use a hard, non-porous ceramic compound as the electrolyte. Since the electrolyte is a solid, the cells do not have to be constructed in the plate-like configuration typical of other fuel cell types. SOFCs are around 50-60 percent efficient at converting fuel to electricity. In applications designed to capture and utilize the system's waste heat (co-generation), overall fuel use efficiencies could top 80-85 percent.

Solid oxide fuel cells operate at very high temperatures—around 1,000°C (1,830°F). High temperature operation removes the need for precious-metal catalyst, thereby reducing cost. It also allows SOFCs to reform fuels internally, which enables the use of a variety of fuels and reduces the cost associated with adding a reformer to the system. SOFCs are also the most sulfur-resistant fuel cell type; they can tolerate several orders of magnitude more sulfur than other cell types. In addition, they are not poisoned by carbon monoxide (CO), which can even be used as fuel.

The design philosophy behind TMI's solid oxide fuel cell system is simplicity, versatility, small scale, unitized, modular market entry design, the ease of maintenance by end users, the efficient organization of internal components, and simplified construction of cells and stacks.
  • The SOFC systems are designed to work for the end user, in their own environment. They are easy to site and operate. One person should be able to maintain the SOFC systems without specialized tools, training, or specialized parts inventory.
  • The systems run on common, available fuels, whether liquid or gaseous and are compact enough to be sited wherever power is needed. Because they can be shipped overnight using common carriers like FedEx and UPS, users will be up and running in hours.
  • The SOFC systems can be added, removed and easily relocated without total systems shutdown. Multiple redundant systems ensure high availability of power and self back-up.
  • Individual systems are intentionally small and compact for ease of shipping and handling by one person. Their modularity allows them to be used as building blocks to produce as much power as is required. Systems can also be added on-the-fly to produce additional power or unplugged and moved to where power is required.
If biofuel-powered fuel cell systems, using renewable fuels like soybean oil, were available to small farms and agri-businesses across the Midwest's farm belt it would allow America's strongest engine for economic growth - the small business - to join with big business to help reduce our nation's dependency on foreign oil and consumption of fossil fuel, says Lee:
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The combination of Ohio's manufacturing, technology and agricultural strengths could create a new industry based on small-scale, on-site, distributed power generation operating on renewable biofuels such as soybeans. And, as the nation's fourth most energy intensive state, Ohio would benefit by being its own best customer.

As one of the few places where all phases of fuel cell development take place, from research and development to component suppliers and final product manufacturing, Ohio provides a supportive business environment for alternative energy companies.

According to the Ohio Business Development Coalition (OBDC), a nonprofit organization that markets the state for capital investment, the demonstration further points to Ohio's standing as a leader in innovative technology in alternative energy.
Ohio is at the heart of next-generation, alternative energy technology advancements. The state is attractive to executives because of its unique mix of micropolitan and metropolitan cities. This combination provides executives the resources and time to pursue their professional goals and personal aspirations without having to compromise one for the other. Ohio truly is the state of perfect balance. - Ed Burghard, executive director for the Ohio Business Development Coalition.
The fuel cell systems have been designed to be compatible with diverse applications and adaptable to unique situations. TMI’s target end users have continuous power applications in the low kilowatt range. The greatest value is for end users in regions with poor or intermittent power availability and weak or non-existent service support or fuel supply infrastructures. In this scenario the small size, ease of maintenance by local workforce and multi-fuel capability presents a very high value proposition over other modalities:

Truck auxiliary power units (APU): High fuel costs and "anti-idling" laws in over 20 states with severe fines when parked trucks fail to turn off their main engines. Early markets include long haul heavy duty trucks which are a major source of noise and air pollution. The picture shows the actual size and proposed location of a 2kW test unit now being engineered. Fuels will be diesel and biodiesel.

On-site stationary power. In rural and remote regions, where grid power is poor or absent, fuel cell systems operating on locally available fuels, including digester biogas provide a reliable alternative. Example applications include:

In developed economies: telecommunications towers and networks requiring high availability premium power, cathodic protection and safety monitoring for natural gas pipelines, and off grid residential and commercial scale buildings.

In third world economies: "village" power to provide clean water and refrigeration, lights for clinics and schools, and battery recharging for handheld electronic devices and supplement solar array battery banks.

Spontaneous Power
. Rapid response situations do not allow any planning for amount of power, location, or, except for the military, fuel availability:

For natural disasters or emergencies situations (e.g. tsunami, earthquakes, Katrina hurricanes, 9-11 terrorists), spontaneous power is needed to support base and satellite emergency relief teams and victims. Particularly when local service support infrastructure may be minimal or absent, the mobility, fuel interoperability and modularity have extremely high value.

For military scenarios: Military mobile command and control centers require quiet, auxiliary power and operation which operate efficiently on military logistic fuel (e.g., JP-8 kerosene). TMI’s system operates on military fuel (JP-8).

The use of biofuels has been demonstrated in other types of fuel cells, most notably ethanol which has been shown to work in Direct Alcohol Fuel Cells (earlier post). Biogas is being used in relatively large SOFC systems in which the methane is reformed first into hydrogen, within the fuel cell system (previous post and here). The EU recently awarded a grant of €5.8 (US$7.5) to a European consortium undertaking a three-year project to develop Large SOFC power plants that run on a multitude of (bio)fuels. The project, "Towards a Large SOFC Power Plant" started on January 1, 2007, with a total budget of €11 (US$14.2) million (earlier post).

PRNewswire: Ohio Demonstrates World's First in Fuel Cell Systems Technology - October 9, 2007.

Biopact: EU grant for biofuel capable SOFC power plants - January 31, 2007

Biopact: Offenburg students test world's first ethanol powered fuel cell vehicle - May 15, 2007

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LS9 secures $15 million in series B funding for development of designer biofuels based on synthetic biology

LS9, Inc., announces the close of its second round of funding with $15 million in new investments. Leading the financing was Lightspeed Venture Partners, with additional contributions from existing partners Flagship Ventures and Khosla Ventures. The funding will support the company’s continued acquisition of experts and rapid commercialization of what it calls its 'DesignerBiofuels' products.

LS9 DesignerBiofuels are a family of fuels produced by microbes that have been specially engineered via recently developed methods of industrial synthetic biology. Starting from raw materials that are natural sources of sugar such as sugar cane and cellulosic biomass, these renewable fuels stand to fundamentally change the biofuels landscape and set the stage for widespread product adoption and petroleum displacement.

LS9 hydrocarbon biofuels have higher energetic content than ethanol or butanol and have fuel properties that are essentially indistinguishable from those of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.

Synthetic biology is a disruptive science field that involves rapid screening of genetic material and selecting and recombining it to build artificial organisms from scratch. Recent breakthroughs include the creation of a DNA-based memory loop in yeast cells (more here), and the alteration of a bacterium from one species into another by transplanting one bacterium's genome into that of another (previous post). Soon, a leading researcher will announce the creation of the first fully artificial life-form ever (see here).

However, many biofuel companies apply the techniques used in synthetic biology merely to modify existing microorganisms in such a way that they perform bioconversion tasks more efficiently (two examples, here and here):
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As a principal investor, Peter Nieh, General Partner of Lightspeed Venture Partners, will take a seat on the company’s board of directors. He said:
LS9 is the clear market leader for renewable production of hydrocarbons. We are very impressed by their differentiated technology, strong intellectual property, and compelling economics. LS9 will be a valuable addition to our clean energy portfolio, and we look forward to working with them to extend their lead with respect to these second-generation biofuels.
According to LS9 President Robert Walsh LS9 was the first company to focus on recombinant production of hydrocarbon biofuels. The new funds will allow for the construction of a a pilot facility, for the commercialization on a massive scale and for bringing DesignerBiofuels products to market in the next two or three years.

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