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    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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Thursday, October 11, 2007

New thermally rearranged plastic membrane captures carbon dioxide faster and better

A modified plastic material greatly improves the ability to separate global warming-linked carbon dioxide from natural gas, gas wastes from power plants and biogas, according to engineers at the University of Texas at Austin, who have analyzed the new plastic's properties. The membrane breaks a performance barrier thought to affect all plastic membranes. The researchers present their findings in tomorrow's issue of Science.

The development is important in the context of the production of next-generation carbon-negative biofuels and bioenergy for which carbon capture tools and techniques are required (previous post). The new membrane is particularly suitable for the removal of carbon dioxide from natural gas, which makes it very interesting with respect to its potential use in pre-combustion carbon capture from biogas (more here). Several other research teams are working on similar cheap and mass-producible carbon capturing membranes (earlier post, here and here).

Like a sponge that only soaks up certain chemicals, the new polymer described by the Austin scientists permits carbon dioxide or other small molecules to go through hour-glass shaped pores within it, while impeding methane movement through these same pores. The thermally rearranged (TR) plastic works four times better than conventional membranes at separating out carbon dioxide through pores.

Dr. Ho Bum Park, a postdoctoral student in the laboratory of Professor Benny Freeman, found that TR plastic membranes act quicker than the current generation. They permit carbon dioxide to move through them a few hundred times faster than conventional membranes do - even as they prohibit natural gas and most other substances from traveling through their pores for separation purposes.
If this material was used instead of conventional cellulose acetate membranes, processing plants would require 500 times less space to process natural gas for use because of the membranes' more efficient separation capabilities, and would lose less natural gas in their waste products - Professor Benny Freeman
When developed for commercial use, the plastic could also be used to isolate natural gas from decomposing organic waste - biogas -, the focus of several experimental projects in the U.S. The TR plastic could also help recapture carbon dioxide being pumped into oil reservoirs where it serves as a tool for removing residual oil.

Park initially engineered the membrane while at Hanyang University in Korea. As a research assistant in the lab of Professor Young Moo Lee, Park investigated whether plastics made of rings of carbon and certain other elements could work well at separating carbon dioxide out of gas wastes produced by power plants. Separating the greenhouse gas from other gases at power plants must occur at high temperatures, which usually destroy plastic membranes.

Lee and Park not only found that the TR plastic could handle temperatures above 600 degrees Fahrenheit, but that the heat transformed the material into the better performing membrane. The membrane breaks a performance barrier thought to affect all plastic membranes.
I didn't expect that the TR plastic would work better than any other plastic membranes because thermally stable plastics usually have very low gas transport rates through them. Everyone had thought the performance barrier for plastic membranes could not be surpassed. - Dr. Ho Bum Park, lead author
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Freeman is a co-author and holds the Kenneth A. Kobe Professorship and Paul D. and Betty Robertson Meek & American Petrofina Foundation Centennial Professorship of Chemical Engineering. Elizabeth Van Wagner, a graduate student in chemical engineering, also is a co-author in Austin.

Park joined Freeman's laboratory in Austin because of the professor's expertise in evaluating membranes. Park then verified that the TR plastic separated carbon dioxide and natural gas well. Natural gas that is transported in pipelines can only contain 2 percent carbon dioxide, yet often comes out of the ground with higher levels of the gas, requiring this separation step.

According to Freeman, this membrane has enormous potential to transform natural gas processing plants, including offshore platforms, which are especially crunched for space.

To better understand how the plastic works, Dr. Anita Hill and her group at Australia's national science agency analyzed the material using positron annihilation lifetime spectroscopy. The method used at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) suggested the hour-glass shape of the pores within the plastic, which are much more consistent in size than in most plastics.

The pores appear and disappear depending on how often the chains of chemicals that make up the plastic move. "The plastic chains move, and as they do, they open up gaps that allow certain gas molecules to wiggle through the plastic," Freeman said.

Freeman and Park intend to learn more about how these mobile pores behave as they develop the TR plastic for commercial purposes.

Park said, "These membranes also show the ability to transport ions since they are doped with acid molecules, and therefore could be developed as fuel cell membranes. However, a lot of research still needs to be done to understand gas and ion transport through these membranes."

Image: the new polymer membrane mimics naturally occurring pores found within cell membranes. The unique hourglass shape effectively separates molecules based on their shape. Separation is more efficient, requiring less energy. Applications include water and gas purification. The separation of carbon dioxide (gray and red) from methane (gray and white) is illustrated. Courtesy: Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO).

Eurekalert: New membrane strips carbon dioxide from natural gas faster and better - October 11, 2007.

Pictures of the membrane at the University of Texas.

Video presentation at CSIRO.

Biopact: Pre-combustion CO2 capture from biogas - the way forward? - March 31, 2007

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Quick overview of Choren's biomass-to-liquids production process

Now that two of Europe's leading car manufacturers, Volkswagen and Daimler, have committed to help introduce second-generation synthetic biofuels onto the European market (earlier post), we can quickly present an overview of Choren's biomass-to-liquids production process.

Choren's synthetic biofuel, dubbed SunDiesel, is produced by gasifying biomass into a carbon monodixe and hydrogen-rich syngas, which is then transformed into an ultra-clean fuel via Fischer-Tropsch synthesis. The resulting biofuel can readily be used in existing infrastructures and engines. Any type of biomass can be used as a feedstock - from wood to organic waste - thus minimizing the potential conflict between food and fuel production. With second-generation biofuels, the world's vast sustainable biomass potential can be tapped. Video courtesy of Choren Industries [entry ends here].
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Volkswagen and Daimler become shareholders of BTL company CHOREN, aim to mass introduce ultra-clean synthetic biofuels

Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft and Daimler AG have each acquired a minority shareholding in CHOREN Industries GmbH. The main goal of the commitment by the two companies is the widespread market introduction of BTL (biomass-to-liquids) fuels, a climate-friendly, second-generation of ultra-clean synthetic biofuels. The fact that two leading car manufacturers are entering this committment is highly significant for the biofuels industry.

Volkswagen and Daimler have been investigating potential applications, the economic feasibility and the energy balance of BTL jointly with CHOREN since 2002. The shareholdings in CHOREN acquired by the two companies are an important step towards the systematic use of second-generation biofuels and support the further project development of world scale BTL production plants: with a planned annual production capacity of some 200,000 metric tones, such plants represent a milestone for the envisaged widespread market introduction.
Volkswagen has been calling for and supporting the development and industrial production of second-generation biofuels, known as SunFuels, for a long time. Compared with the first generation, these second-generation biofuels can in fact as much as triple hectare yields, they do not compete with food production and they help to reduce greenhouse gases by approx. 90%. With this financial commitment, the Volkswagen Group is supporting the industrial-scale realization of biogenic synthetic fuels as part of its 'Driving ideas' campaign, and thus systematically continuing to move closer to sustainable mobility. - Dr. Wolfgang Steiger, Head of Group Research, Powertrains
CHOREN is currently building the world’s first commercial industrial scale BTL plant (Beta plant) at its Freiberg site. From 2008, the plant is expected to produce approximately 15,000 metric tons of fuel a year. This would be sufficient to meet the annual requirements of some 15,000 cars.

The company also plans to build the first reference plant in Germany, a Sigma 1 plant, with an annual capacity of 200,000 metric tons. It is hoped to announce a decision on the location of such a plant by the end of the year. The planned Sigma plants have the potential to contribute significantly towards realizing the German government’s climate protection targets. 10 to 15 CHOREN BTL plants could save up to 3 million metric tons of CO2 by 2020.

CHOREN has developed a three-stage gasification process, called Carbo-V, involving the following sub-processes:
  • low temperature gasification
  • high temperature gasification
  • endothermic entrained bed gasification
During the first stage of the process, the biomass (with a water content of 15 – 20 %) is continually carbonized through partial oxidation (low temperature pyrolysis) with air or oxygen at temperatures between 400 and 500 °C, i.e. it is broken down into a gas containing tar (volatile parts) and solid carbon (char).

During the second stage, the gas containing tar is post-oxidized hypostoichiometrically using air and/or oxygen in a combustion chamber operating above the melting point of the fuel’s ash to turn it into a hot gasification medium.

During the third stage of the process, the char is ground down into pulverized fuel and is blown into the hot gasification medium. The pulverized fuel and the gasification medium react endothermically in the gasification reactor and are converted into a raw synthesis gas. Once this has been treated in the appropriate manner, it can be used as a combustible gas for generating electricity, steam and heat or as a synthesis gas for producing an ultra-clean synthetic biofuel ('SunDiesel') via Fischer-Tropsch synthesis:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Fischer-Tropsch (FT) synthesis is used to convert the synthesis gas into an automotive fuel. During this process, the reactive parts of the synthesis gas (CO and H2) interact with a catalyst to form hydrocarbons. FT synthesis was developed in Germany in the 1920s and it is particularly used in South Africa on a large scale to produce automotive fuels from coal.

In order to maximize the output of the synthetic biodiesel, the waxes formed during the FT synthesis process are further processed using hydrocracking techniques, a standard process that is used in the petrochemical sector to recycle waste substances at refineries.

SunDiesel is an ultraclean synthetic biofuel which:
  • has a high cetane number and therefore much better ignition performance than conventional diesel fuel,
  • has no aromatics or sulfur and significantly reduces pollutants from exhaust emissions,
  • can be used without any adjustment to existing infrastructure or engine systems,
  • is largely CO2-neutral
Volkswagen and Daimler will be stepping up cooperation to shape the framework for the sustainable market introduction of BTL fuels.
In particular the realization of Sigma 1 needs a calculable and long-term perspective for the sale of BTL beyond 2015. Present considerations which are exclusively based on CO2 for established technologies will not be sufficient for introducing innovations. - Tom Blades, CEO at CHOREN
BTL is an ultrapure fuel, virtually free of sulphur and aromatics which combusts with extremely low emissions and has an excellent CO2 balance. BTL is produced from various types of biogenic feedstock and residue, and thus hardly competes with food and fodder production. No adjustment of existing fuel infrastructure is necessary for the distribution and storage of BTL. In addition, BTL is compatible with current as well as future diesel engine technology.

For quite some time now, Volkswagen has been supporting the socially, ecologically and economically-compatible cultivation of organic resources for the production of second-generation biofuels. This could be achieved by taxation on biofuels oriented to both CO2 efficiency (primary criteria) and sustainability criteria such as the use of fertilizers or pesticides, the protection of rainforests, social standards and employment potential.

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Johnson Controls and Nexterra Energy form strategic alliance for biomass gasification projects

Johnson Controls, Inc., has formed a strategic alliance with Nexterra Energy Corp. to offer biomass gasification solutions to Johnson Controls customers, including higher education, health care, government facilities and industrial operations.

Nexterra's patented gasification technology converts biomass into clean burning syngas that can be used to displace natural gas or fuel oil to generate heat and/or electricity. Under the strategic alliance agreement, the companies will jointly develop and implement biomass gasification projects that will enable customers to reduce energy costs, increase energy security, lower greenhouse gas emissions and become less reliant on fossil fuel by using locally sourced, renewable biomass fuel.

The gasification technology provides a clean, versatile and low cost means of converting wood and other solid fuels into syngas to produce heat and power at plant-scale applications. Nexterra has initially developed gasification systems to displace natural gas at sawmills, panelboard plants, pulp and paper mills, and institutional facilities using wood fuel. Future applications include systems that operate on coal and other low cost fuels.

The core of Nexterra’s technology is a fixed-bed, updraft gasifier (schematic, click to enlarge) whose operation can be described in four steps:
  1. Biomass, sized to 3 inches or less, is bottom-fed into the centre of a dome-shaped, refractory lined gasifier. The metering bin is designed to provide short term fuel storage and to deliver a steady rate of fuel to the gasifier. The metering bin out-feed augers have a variable speed drive that deposits fuel into a horizontal auger conveyor where it is transferred to a vertical conveyor. The vertical auger pushes fuel into the base of the fuel pile inside the gasifier. A constant fuel pile height is maintained in the gasifier over the entire operating range.
  2. Combustion air, steam and/or oxygen are introduced into the base of the fuel pile. Partial oxidation, pyrolysis and gasification occur at 1500 — 1800 °F, and the fuel is converted into “syngas” and non-combustible ash. As fuel enters the gasifier, it moves through progressive stages of drying, pyrolysis, gasification and reduction to ash. Combustion air (20 - 30% of stoichiometric), steam and/or oxygen are introduced through the inner and outer cone into the base of the fuel pile. The process is maintained by simultaneous control of combustion air and fuel feed rate. Combustion temperatures in the fuel pile are tightly controlled and kept below the ash melting temperatures to ensure that there is no formation of “clinker” and that the ash flows freely.
  3. The ash migrates to the base of the gasifier and is removed intermittently through an automated in-floor ash grate. As partially processed fuel passes to the outer cone, it is reduced to non-combustible ash. The ash migrates to the grate at the base of the gasifier where it is removed intermittently through a set of openings. The openings are normally covered by a rotating plate fabricated with the same pattern of openings. When hydraulically activated, the rotating plate aligns its openings with the fixed plate and the ash drops into two ash hoppers. Each ash hopper has two parallel augers to convey the ash to a collection conveyor and an enclosed ash bin.
  4. Syngas exits the gasifier at 500 — 700 °F. The syngas can then be combusted in a close coupled oxidizer with the resulting flue gas directed to heat recovery equipment such as boilers, thermal oil heaters, air-to-air heat exchangers and turbines. The syngas is thus used to produce useable heat, hot water, steam and/or electricity. Nexterra is also developing systems to directly fire syngas into industrial boilers, kilns, dryers and other equipment.
As the cost of fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas increases and concern about their economic and environmental impacts grows, businesses and institutions are demanding alternative sources of clean energy. Nexterra was selected because it has demonstrated that its technology is cost-effective, versatile, easy to operate, and provides real solutions to real energy problems:
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Nexterra's capabilities add to a growing alliance of innovative energy technology partners that complement Johnson Control's existing renewable energy solutions and services.

Johnson Controls uses ingenious approaches to incorporate renewable technologies such as biomass, geothermal, solar and wind power with innovative energy efficiency strategies to provide customers long-term, sustainable solutions.

Most recently Johnson Controls partnered with Nexterra to provide a $20 million biomass gasification system for the University of South Carolina that is scheduled for start-up this fall (picture, click to enlarge). At peak capacity, the plant will generate 60,000 lbs/hr of steam which will be used to heat the campus, as well as 1.38 MW of electricity that will be sold to the grid. This gasification solution will now be replicated across a range of institutional and industrial markets throughout North America.

Nexterra Energy
is a developer and supplier of advanced biomass gasification systems that enable customers to self-generate clean, low cost heat and/or power using waste fuels "inside-the fence" at institutional and industrial facilities. Nexterra gasification systems provide a combination of attributes including design simplicity, reliability, versatility, ultra-low emissions, low cost and full automation.

Johnson Controls: Johnson Controls and Nexterra Energy Form Strategic Alliance to Offer Biomass Gasification - October 11, 2007.

Nexterra: Nexterra Biomass Gasification System Nears Completion at Johnson Controls Cogeneration Plant for University of South Carolina - January 31, 2007.

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Global Energy Inc. subsidiary in agreement to lease 20,000 hectares of land in Ethiopia to grow castor seeds

Global Energy Inc., an alternative energy company focusing on the processing of solid and energy waste into usable products, announced it has entered into lease agreements with the 'Southern Nations, Nationalionalities and People's Regional State' (SNRS), in Ethiopia, for a 50 year lease of 20,000 hectares of rural land to grow biofuel feedstock. The project offers an interesting overview of what a land lease in Africa could look like.

The land is located in the Semien Omo and Debub Omo Zones (southwestern Ethiopia →FlashEarth) and will be used for the purpose of cultivating castor seeds, which can be transformed into biofuels, biolubricants and a large range of other bioproducts (amongst other things, castor oil is used for the production of high-strength bioplastics superior to petroleum based alternatives - earlier post and here). Land is also leased for the establishment of a seed crushing plant through an existing facility on the property.

The agreements were entered into by Global Energy Ethiopia (GEE), a 99.9% owned subsidiary of Global NRG Pacific Ltd., which itself is a 50.1% owned subsidiary of Global Energy Inc. which was formed as a joint venture with Yanai Man Projects Ltd. for the purpose of producing crude castor oil to manufacture biodiesel fuels.

The land lease agreement is subject to strict conditions:
  • The company must pay the SNRS a rental fee of 47 Birr (approximately US$5) or 78 Birr (approximately US$8.50) per hectare per year, depending on whether the leased land is defined as 'second' or 'first class' land, respectively.
  • It must also completely develop the 20,000 hectares within eight years of the execution date of the agreement, including planting and maintaining trees or other oil producing crops.
  • Furthermore, the company must completely develop the 15 hectares leased to it within three years of the execution date of the agreement.
  • The company must perform a survey on the 20,000 hectares within 24 months of the execution date of the agreement.
  • Global Energy Ethiopia has an option to lease additional farmland from the SNRS during the term of the lease agreement (up to an additional 100,000 hectares of farmland) on the same terms as the lease agreement for the 20,000 hectares.
  • The company is not required to make any rental payments on its 20,000 hectare lease agreement until the fourth year of the agreement.
Castor oil is derived from seeds of Ricin communis, a crop grown widely in the subtropics and the tropics. The castor plant is a fast-growing, suckering perennial shrub, part of the Euphorbiaceae family (to which Jatropha also belongs), which can reach the size of a small tree (around 12 m) and requires limited amounts of water and fertilizer inputs. Castor oil plants yield some 1,200 to 2,000 liters of oil per hectare:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Besides being a biodiesel feedstock, the oil derived from castor seeds has over 1000 patented industrial applications and is used in the following industries: automobile, aviation, cosmetics, electrical, electronics, manufacturing, pharmaceutical, plastics, and telecommunications. The following is a brief list of castor oil uses in the above industries: adhesives, brake fluids, caulks, dyes, electrical liquid dielectrics, humectants, hydraulic fluids, inks, lacquers, leather treatments, lubricating greases, machining oils, paints, pigments, refrigeration lubricants, rubbers, sealants, textiles, washing powders, and waxes.

Other countries, amongst them Jamaica, have decided to promote castor for the production of biodiesel, as the crop requires low amounts of water and fertilizer. It thrives in relatively poor soils and is accessible to poor farmers.

GEE intends in the coming months to enter into community farming agreements with local municipal authorities pursuant to which local farmers will grow castor seeds for the company and for cultivation of the leased lands with modern advanced agricultural systems. GEE also intends to file a request for funding from the Ethiopian Development Bank to fund 70% of the project investment and working capital for the first year.
This agreement represents entry into a rich area in a prime geographic location that holds the potential to garner global revenue while providing a sorely needed end-product. With strong government relations and an infrastructure in place, this joint venture represents one, of many, large projects on the continent of Africa. - Asi Shalgi, CEO of Global Energy Ethiopia.
Global Energy's mission is to commercialize innovative technologies which produce energy from waste and renewable sources, while contributing to a vision of a cleaner environment. The company intends to use of the most efficient and environmentally friendly of all currently available alternative fuel technologies.

Ad Hoc: Global Energy Subsidiary Enters Into 50 Year Lease Agreement With Ethiopian Regional Authority to Farm Castor Seeds for Production of Castor Oil on 20,015 Hectares of Land in Ethiopia - October 11, 2007.

Biopact: Jamaica selects castor beans as biodiesel feedstock - August 13, 2007

Biopact: The bioeconomy at work: robust bioplastic used for off-shore oil riser pipes - April 18, 2007

Biopact: The bioeconomy at work: bioplastic fuel lines to handle aggressive biodiesel - December 13, 2006

Ricin communis profile at the Handbook of Energy crops.

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Water-efficient sweet sorghum: how first-generation biofuels could be made

Here's an interesting example of how first-generation biofuels could be made sustainably. Dr A.R. Palani Swamy, an engineer who returned to India from the U.S., has set up a sweet sorghum-based ethanol plant in his native country with the help of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). The feedstock requires only one ninth of the water needed to grow sugar cane and only half that of maize; fertilizer inputs are comparably low. For these inputs, the sweet sorghum yields around 3160 liters of ethanol, comparable to the output for maize. What is more, the biofuel feedstock is produced by poor farmers.

With its pro-poor Biopower program, the ICRISAT has been leading efforts to leverage the potential of sustainable biofuel production as a stategy to boost the livelihoods of small farmers, to enhance their food security and to help lift them out of poverty (more here). It draws on crops such as Pongamia and Jatropha and on social organisation models such as self-help groups for rural women and farmer cooperatives (examples). But its main contribution comes from developing a very robust sweet sorghum hybrid (earlier post).

Dr Swamy found support from the ICRISAT's technology commercialisation wing, the Agri-Business Incubator (ABI), which agreed to help his company Rusni Distilleries get off the ground. This helped form a unique combination — the entrepreneur, mentorship from the scientific organisation, an NGO that offered extension services for the sorghum crop, and the marginal farmers.

Besides facilitating the multiplication of seed material, ICRISAT organised melas, village meetings, to popularise the crop. The crucial aspect of establishing linkages with the farmers was organised by the NGO Aakruthi Agricultural Associates of India. It was not easy convincing the farmers initially, says G. Subba Rao, Director of AAI, but eventually they succeeded. The support of the ICRISAT also helped secure statutory clearances as well as investments into the crop.

Dr William Dar, Director-General of ICRISAT, says sorghum, a dryland crop, needs far less water than sugarcane, making it more accessible to the poor and marginal farmers who do not own land suitable for other crops. The ethanol production process from sweet sorghum is also considerably more eco-friendly compared to that from sugarcane molasses, adds Belum V. S. Reddy, Principal Scientist (Breeding) at ICRISAT, who is closely associated with the programme.

Keeping in mind the unfolding demand for alternative fuels, Reddy feels that the water-efficient sweet sorghum, with its sugar-rich stalks, could be the best option for producing ethanol. The biofuel's energy balance is strong, it reduces greenhouse gas emissions considerably and requires far less inputs than any other major first-generation biofuel crop:
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Moreover, molasses-based ethanol distilleries run for only six months, while corn-based ethanol production raises concerns globally as it may adversely impact food security, says Reddy. Sweet sorghum faces none of these problems.

After developing the idea into a workable model at the incubation stage, Dr Palani Swamy set up the plant at Mohammed Shapur in Rangareddy district with an initial capacity of 40,000 litres a day. An engineer, Dr Swamy has built his fermentation tanks in pits. This will insulate the process from the outside temperature, which varies from 44 to 8 degrees through summer and winter.

The most important aspect of the production process is the timing of planting the crop. The whole stock shouldn't be coming in at one time, instead a staggered sowing plan was developed to ensure continuous flow of feedstock.

Reacting to concerns on food security, Dr Dar said ethanol production from sweet sorghum boosts farmer's incomes, which allows them to strengthen their food security. The project has entered into buyback arrangements with the farmers to take the whole output of sweet sorghum stalks.

Now that the combination evolved into a workable, successful model, there are a lot of people showing interest in replicating it in India and abroad. While ICRISAT would assist in the technology part, Rusni Distilleries would help in setting up the plant and back-end operations.

For Mr Belum Reddy, it is not just end of the story for research on sweet sorghum. Research will continue on developing varieties that would give higher sugar yield and suit different geographies.

Dr Palani Swamy believes that it makes a good business model too. It is a sellers market, he asserts. The demand for ethanol will only grow, he adds, pointing at India's moves to increase the blend to 10 per cent from the present five per cent. Swamy, who found it difficult to sell his dream a few years ago, is now a much sought-after man. He is already busy helping other entrepreneurs to set up similar plants.

Image: A farm worker strikes a container to drive away birds at a sweet sorghum farm, showing tall stalks, at the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics at Patancheru in Andhra Pradesh’s Medak district. Courtesy: ICRISAT.

Hindu Business Line: Ethanol from sorghum: A dream come true - October 11, 2007.

Biopact: ICRISAT's pro-poor biofuel projects provide livelihood and food security to landless farmers in India - August 13, 2007

Biopact: ICRISAT's pro-poor biofuels initiative - video - May 28, 2007

Biopact: Sweet super sorghum - yield data for the ICRISAT hybrid - February 21, 2007

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IPC urges EU/US to open markets for more efficient biofuels from the developing world - boost to 'Biopact'

Yet another major agriculture policy think tank has examined the effects of EU and US support for their own first-generation biofuels industries compared to more efficient alternatives from the South, and finds that the measures present major problems: domestic biofuels are not very energy efficient, they do not offer significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, they are not cost effective, they push up food prices and they are based on large amounts of subsidies and protectionist trade barriers.

The International Food & Agricultural Trade Policy Council (IPC) therefor urges both blocks to open their markets for biofuels from the developing world, where they can be produced far more efficiently, cost effectively and offer major opportunities for economic development and poverty alleviation. The IPC thus fully joins the case for a 'Biopact' - a vision now being supported by major energy policy think tanks, agriculture organisations and development economists.

The US and the EU are presently considering significant increases in their biofuels mandates in transportation fuel. IPC's report 'An Examination of U.S. and EU Government Support to Biofuels: Early Lessons' [*.pdf], finds that, in the absence of commercially viable second-generation biofuels, ambitious mandates coupled with high tariffs that serve to largely limit tax incentives to domestic producers risk a disproportionate focus on inefficient US and EU first-generation biofuels.

The report demonstrates that the lack of internationally agreed technical and sustainability standards, as well as a lack of clarity about international trade obligations, can increase this tendency. The report urges the U.S. and EU to adopt policies that serve to promote uses of biomass that are most energy-efficient and show the greatest promise of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, regardless of national origin.

The IPC's report says that, considering the comparative advantage of many developing countries in agriculture, increased US and EU openness to imports could provide economic growth opportunities for those countries with large production capacities. Developing countries can produce biofuels in a more efficient (table 1, click to enlarge) and more cost-effective (figure, click to enlarge) way.

Moreover, these biofuels reduce greenhouse gas emissions far more than fuels made from grains such as wheat and corn (figure 2, click to enlarge). What is more, both the EU and the US have limited land resources needed to expand production, whereas in the developing world there is vast unused potential.

To encourage the efficient production of biofuels from the most appropriate feedstocks, IPC’s report makes following recommendations and warnings:

EU and U.S. mandates, tax incentives, and tariffs:
  • In the absence of viable second-generation biofuels, incentives, tariffs, and standards that are structured primarily to promote domestic production of certain biofuels will retard the procurement and development of other more energy — and cost-efficient — biofuels.
  • Widening the access of imports to U.S. and EU domestic markets would help reduce upward pressure on commodity prices and lower the high costs of biofuels production, decreasing the risk of a backlash against government subsidies.
  • Clarifying how WTO rules apply to the biofuels sector can pave the way for less distorted government support policies.
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International standards are necessary to ensure that biofuels play a productive role in the push for renewable energy sources:
  • Global sustainability standards can point the way towards optimal biofuels and feedstocks. The reduction of greenhouse gases should be the top priority.
  • Without an international consensus on what constitutes sustainable biofuels production, environmental concerns can conveniently be used to cloak protectionist interests.
  • Without widespread agreement on feedstock-neutral quality specifications, divergent technical standards can also be used for protectionist purposes.
The United States and the EU should consider the impact of their biofuels support policies on developing countries:
  • Increased prices and new market opportunities will be welcome by developing countries with good production and export capacity. Rising food prices, however, hit net food importing developing countries especially hard.
  • Considering the comparative advantage of many developing countries in agriculture, increased U.S. and EU openness to imports could provide economic growth opportunities for those countries with large production capacities.
  • Other developing countries should be encouraged to explore the potential for domestic and small-scale biofuels production, which promises to be effective in the ongoing struggle for greater access to more sustainable energy sources and in the fight against poverty. As these countries do not have comparable means to subsidize their biofuels industry, the prospect of trade will facilitate investment.
  • For international sustainability criteria to be effective, they must truly be global and incorporate the interests and concerns of developing countries. Given the possibility that these standards may limit economic growth in developing countries, care must be taken to help developing countries comply.
The costs, energy efficiencies, and net energy balances of biofuels vary widely, depending on the type of feedstock and production process used. Since the utilization of biofuels by the transport sector in the United States and the EU relies on government incentives, these policies should promote those biofuels that have an economic and environmental comparative advantage.

The political reality, however, is that domestic interests, largely agricultural ones, expect to be the primary beneficiaries of generous incentives to achieve ambitious biofuel production targets. Policymakers are not shy about this. They promote biofuels not only for their energy and environmental benefits, but also for their role in strengthening the market for domestically produced agricultural feedstocks.

This IPC’s examination of U.S. and EU incentives and tariffs demonstrates a high level of protectionism on both sides. Ultimately, the objective of promoting domestic production may undermine efforts to rapidly develop the most efficient, sustainable energy resources, it concludes.

The International Food & Agricultural Trade Policy Council promotes a more open and equitable global food system by pursuing pragmatic trade and development policies in food and agriculture to meet the world's growing needs. IPC convenes influential policymakers, agribusiness executives, farm leaders, and academics from developed and developing countries to clarify complex issues, build consensus, and advocate policies to decision-makers.

Charlotte Hebebrand and Kara Laney, "An Examination of U.S. and EU Government Support to Biofuels: Early Lessons" [*.pdf], IPC Issue Brief 26, October 2007

IPC: U.S. and EU policies should expedite sustainable biofuels - October9, 2007.

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Europe launches €940 million Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Technology Initiative

The European Commission has adopted two proposals that will mark a step forward in the development and marketing of clean and safe hydrogen vehicles in Europe. The first is the setting up of the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Technology Initiative (JTI), an ambitious industry-led integrated programme of research, technology development and demonstration activities.

This Public-Private Partnership driven by European industry will be implemented over the next 6 years with a financial contribution from the EU of €470 million, to be matched by the private sector. The €940 million ($1.3 billion) JTI should accelerate the development of hydrogen technologies to the point of commercial take-off between 2010 and 2020.

Secondly, a number of hydrogen cars are already ripe for market introduction today. Thus, the Commission proposes to simplify their approval so that they will be seen more often on Europe's streets. Both proposals will now be considered by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers.
The introduction of hydrogen vehicles has the potential to make Europe's air cleaner and reduce its dependency on fossil fuels. Setting common standards will support the introduction of these vehicles and ensure high safety for citizens. It will also boost the competitiveness of European manufacturers. - Günter Verheugen, Commission Vice-President, responsible for enterprise and industry
Hydrogen is a clean energy carrier. When used as fuel either in combustion motors or in fuel-cell systems, it does not produce any carbon emissions (carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, unburned hydrocarbons or particulates). Thus, using hydrogen will contribute to the improvement of air quality in cities. Moreover, no greenhouse gases are produced from motor vehicles, although care will have to be taken that the production of hydrogen itself does not lead to an increase in CO2 emissions. This can be achieved by producing hydrogen from non-fossil energy sources or by CO2 sequestration. One of the many possible production pathways relies on renewable biomass as a primary energy source:
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EU wide approval of hydrogen vehicles
At the moment, hydrogen vehicles are not included in the EU vehicle type-approval system. This results in complicated and costly approval procedures and hinders vehicles being placed on the market on a uniform basis throughout the EU. The Commission's proposal will introduce these vehicles into the type-approval framework. Furthermore, hydrogen has different characteristics from conventional fuels. The proposal will guarantee that all hydrogen vehicles put on the market in the EU are at least as safe as conventional vehicles.

Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Technology Initiative
The second proposal is to create a public/private partnership for research, a Joint Technology Initiative, to benefit the development of hydrogen and fuel cells. The JTI will receive €470 million from the EU's 7th Framework Programme, an amount that will be matched by the industrial partners.

Fuel cells are very efficient energy conversion devices. Fuel cells can be applied in a variety of products such as mobile phones and laptops, cars, buses, ships and planes, as well as stationary heat and power generators in the domestic and industrial sector. However, a number of technical and non-technical barriers must still be addressed before these technologies can become widely commercially available. They include, for example, cost and durability of fuel cells, sustainable production of hydrogen, and safe and efficient distribution and storage of hydrogen, particularly for mobile applications.

According to the Commission, the new research cooperation has a number of clear advantages:
  • The JTI will contribute to reduced time to market for hydrogen and fuel cells technologies by between 2 and 5 years.
  • There will be a quicker impact on improving energy efficiency, security of supply, pollution, and on improving potential for reducing greenhouse gases.
  • A pre-defined budget of sufficient critical mass and a 6 year time horizon will raise confidence in public and private investors and allows industry to make long-term investment plans and manage its cash flows.
  • Industry’s lead role, together with the European Commission, in defining priorities and timelines, in consultation with the research community, will ensure that full advantage is taken of the fundamental research capacities in universities and research centres and that RTD and demonstration efforts are integrated under common management.
  • The JTI will create a stronger link between demonstration projects and fundamental and applied research projects, accelerating the pace of learning and moving faster along the experience curve.
The scope and deliverables of the project include:
  • The JTI will implement basic research and industrial applied R&D, demonstration actions and supporting activities, based on the work already done by the European Technology Platform. Perhaps not adding much of useful info
  • The intention with the JTI is to deliver robust hydrogen supply and fuel cell technologies developed to the point of commercial take-off. For the automotive sector, the aim is to achieve breakthroughs in bottleneck technologies and to enable industry to take the large-scale commercialisation decisions necessary to achieve mass market growth in the time-frame 2015-2020. For stationary fuel cells (domestic and commercial) and portable applications, the JTI will provide the technology base to initiate market growth from 2010-2015.
These two proposals adopted by the European Commission on fuel cells and hydrogen technologies are expected to offer long term solutions for sustainable energy and transport systems. These will benefit society by mitigating the adverse effects of climate change and toxic pollutants, and reducing dependency on diminishing oil and gas reserves.

European Commission: The Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Technology Initiative - October 10, 2007.

European Commission: Clean and safe cars: The Commission promotes hydrogen vehicles - October 10, 2007.

European Commission, Enterprise & Industry: Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on type-approval of hydrogen powered motor vehicles and amending Directive 2007/46/EC [*.pdf] - October 10, 2007.

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