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    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 23, 2007

Growth in carbon emissions accelerating; exceeding worst case scenario

An international team of scientists has taken another look at how rapidly Earth's atmosphere is absorbing carbon dioxide (CO2) - the biggest greenhouse gas in terms of volume - and the news is not good: a high-flying world economy is pumping out the gas at an unprecedented rate while natural carbon sinks such as oceans and terrestrial ecosystems have become less efficient in sequestering carbon. Because of this, current atmospheric CO2 levels are outstripping the best estimates used by modelers to predict future climate trends. The team reports its findings in an open access article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.

The growth of carbon emissions from fossil fuels has tripled compared to the 1990s and is now exceeding the predictions of the highest IPCC emission scenarios - the problematic A1FI scenario, based on very rapid, fossil intensive economic growth (graph, click to enlarge). Key data from the report:
  • Atmospheric CO2 has grown at 1.9 parts per million (ppm) per year compared to about 1.5 ppm during the previous 30 years
  • The growth in emissions from fossil fuels increased from 1.3% per year for 1990-1999 to 3.3% per year during the period running from 2000 to 2006; total carbon emissions now stand at 9.9 Petagram per year, of which 8.4 comes from fossil fuels and 1.5 Pg from land-use changes (graph, click to enlarge)
  • Emissions generated by land-use changes have remained constant, but have shifted in geographic focus (from South America, where a decline in deforestation has occured, to South and South East Asia)
  • The efficiency of natural carbon sinks - oceans and terrestrial plant growth - has decreased by 10% over the last 50 years and will continue to do so in the future, implying that the longer we wait to reduce emissions, the larger the cuts needed to stabilize atmospheric CO2. A number of large droughts in the mid-latitudes (Europe, North America, Central asia) has reduced the capacity of plants to sequester carbon in these regions (map, click to enlarge)
  • For the first time in 100 years, the carbon intensity of the world’s economy has stopped decreasing; since 2000, carbon output per dollar of productivity has been increasing by 0.3% per year, whereas during the previous 3 decades, it was dropping by an average of 1.3% per year (graph, click to enlarge)
  • All of these changes characterize a carbon cycle that is generating stronger climate forcing and sooner than expected
The share of the different drivers of the increased atmospheric CO2 levels is as follows:
  • 65% due to the increased activity of the global economy
  • 17% due to the deterioration of the carbon intensity of the global economy
  • 18% due to the decreased efficiency of natural sinks
When it comes to regional contributions, the trend is straightforward: all economies have increased their carbon emissions. The largest growth can be seen in China and India, two countries whose economies are growing very rapidly; the developing world's contribution (D1, D2, D3) is inreasing significantly, whereas that of the Former Soviet Union is beginning to pick up again after the decline resulting from the economic collapse during the 1990s. Only the EU seems to have succeeded in more or less stabilising its carbon emissions (graph, click to enlarge).

Between 2000 to 2006, human activities such as burning fossil fuels, manufacturing cement, and land-use changes contributed an average of 4.1 billion metric tons of carbon to the atmosphere each year, yielding an annual growth rate for atmospheric carbon dioxide of 1.93 ppm. This is the highest since the beginning of continuous monitoring in 1959, states the report. The growth rate of atmospheric carbon dioxide is significantly larger than those for the 1980s and 1990s, which were 1.58 and 1.49 ppm per year, respectively. The present atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide is 381 ppm, the largest concentration in the last 650,000 years, and probably in the last 20 million years:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

While the worldwide acceleration in carbon dioxide emissions had been previously noted, the current analysis provides insights into its causes. “The new twist here is the demonstration that weakening land and ocean sinks are contributing to the accelerating growth of atmospheric CO2,” says co-author Chris Field, director of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology.

Changes in wind patterns over the Southern Ocean resulting from human-induced global warming have brought carbon-rich water toward the surface, reducing the ocean’s ability to absorb excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. On land, where plant growth is the major mechanism for drawing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, large droughts have reduced the uptake of carbon.

Emissions from the burning of fossil fuels constituted the largest source of anthropogenic carbon, releasing an average of 7.6 billion metric tons each year between 2000 and 2006, a significant jump from 6.5 billion tons in the 1990s. Emissions generated by land-use changes such as deforestation have remained constant, but shifted in geographic focus.

The study also shows that the carbon intensity of the global economy (kilograms of carbon per dollar of economic activity) has increased since 2000 at about 0.3% per year, reversing a 30-year decline of about 1.3% per year. Because practically all proposed scenarios for managing future emissions postulate improvements in carbon intensity in the global economy, this deterioration of carbon intensity presents a serious challenge in stabilizing atmospheric carbon dioxide and mitigating climate change.

The paper presents "a consistent picture of the increasing accumulation of atmospheric CO2 and, hence, the increasing urgency to do something about it," says physical scientist S. Randy Kawa of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. But he cautions about jumping to long-term conclusions. "Just because the last 7 years have shown accelerating trends does not mean that the next 7 or 50 or 100 will be the same," Kawa says. "But they are what they are, and we need to pay attention."

The research team included scientists from the following institutions: CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research (Australia); the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Laxenburg (Austria); the Commissariat a L'Energie Atomique, Laboratorie des Sciences du Climat et de l'Environnement (France); University of East Anglia, School of Environment Sciences, Norwich, (UK), the British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge (UK); the Carnegie Institution of Washington, Department of Global Ecology, Stanford (USA); the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory, Boulder (USA); the Woods Hole Research Center, Falmouth (USA); and the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge (USA).

Michael R. Raupach, Gregg Marland, Philippe Ciais, Corinne Le Quéré, Josep G. Canadell, Gernot Klepper, and Christopher B. Field, "Global and regional drivers of accelerating CO2 emissions", PNAS, June 12, 2007, vol. 104, no. 24, 10288-10293

Eurekalert: Rise in atmospheric CO2 accelerates as economy grows, natural carbon sinks weaken - October 22, 2007.

GLobal Carbon Project: "Recent Carbon Trends and the Global Carbon Budget updated to 2006" [*.pdf], GCP-Global Carbon Budget team: Pep Canadell, Philippe Ciais, Thomas Conway, Chris Field, Corinne Le Quéré, Skee Houghton, Gregg Marland, Mike Raupach, Erik Buitenhuis, Nathan Gillett; Last update: 20 October 2007

The 6 emissions scenarios developed by the International Panel on Climate Change and still used as the reference can be found here: IPPC Special Report: Emissons Scenarios, Summary for Policy Makers [*.pdf] - 2000.

Article continues

Leading scientists: energy crisis poses major 21st century threat, action needed now

At the Biopact, we continuously point to the potentially catastrophic social and economic effects of high fossil fuel prices, energy poverty and energy insecurity, especially on developing countries. 'Peak energy' analysts have been warning for the dangerous geopolitical consequences of 'peak oil'. And climate scientists continue to paint a grim picture of our future as global warming, resulting from burning fossil fuels, begins to show its impacts. In short, energy has become the nexus of a whole range of major societal challenges and risks.

World leading energy experts from 15 academies of science have now analysed these pressing concerns and conclude in a major report that the energy crisis poses one of the greatest threats facing humanity this century. In 'Lighting the Way: Toward A Sustainable Energy Future', published by the InterAcademy Council, they highlight the perils of oil wars, of energy security, and of climate change driven by an addiction to fossil fuels. But in these dramatic challenges can be found the kernel of a major opportunity to enter a new era of sustainability, prosperity, social justice and security.

The InterAcademy Council has 15 members, including the national science academies of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Brazil, China and India. The Council's report was authored by a 15-member panel whose co-chair was Nobel Physics laureate Steven Chu, a leading bioenergy researcher. It offers a consensus science roadmap published for directing global energy development and a scientific framework for securing economic growth and climate protection.

'Lighting the Way' calls for immediate and simultaneous action in three areas:
  • Concerted efforts should be mounted to improve energy efficiency and reduce the carbon intensity of the world economy, including the worldwide introduction of price signals for carbon emissions
  • Technologies should be developed and deployed for capturing and sequestering carbon from fossil fuels, particularly coal
  • Development and deployment of renewable energy technologies should be accelerated in an environmentally responsible way
Taking into account the three urgent recommendations above, one call stands out by itself as a moral and social imperative and should be pursued with all means available:
The poorest people on this planet should be supplied with basic, modern energy services.
The report offers 9 key conclusions (see below), on the basis of which recommendations and calls for action are made with urgency to the world's governments, international institutions, science & technology and business communities, civil society and the public at large.

One of the conclusions is that biomass based renewable fuels and energy hold 'great promise for simultaneously addressing climate-change and energy-security concerns.' The report also calls for the introduction of carbon-negative bioenergy, by coupling carbon capture and storage technologies to biomass combustion and co-firing. Non-biomass renewables like wind and solar face some major challenges, but can seriously contribute to bringing modern energy to developing countries. The report further calls, with caution, for more investments in next-generation nuclear facilities. Other dawning technologies, such as plug-in hybrid cars and hydrogen fuel cells for energy storage, can make an important niche contribution.
The 'business as usual' energy path we are on today is not sustainable and is counter to the long-term prosperity of every nation. This report stresses the urgency of the energy problem, and then goes on to describe technologies that can be applied today, needed scientific and technological innovations, and policy tools that could be used to help policy makers guide their countries toward a more prosperous, secure and environmentally sound energy future. - Nobel Laureate Steven Chu, co-chair, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab
Humankind has faced daunting problems in every age, but today’s generation confronts a unique set of challenges. The environmental systems on which all life depends are being threatened locally, regionally, and at a planetary level by human actions. And even as great numbers of people enjoy unprecedented levels of material prosperity, a greater number remains mired in chronic poverty, without access to the most basic of modern services and amenities and with minimal opportunities for social (e.g., educational) and economic advancement. At the same time, instability and conflict in many parts of the world have created profound new security risks:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Energy is critical to human development and connects in fundamental ways to all of these challenges. As a result, the transition to sustainable energy resources and systems provides an opportunity to address multiple environmental, economic, and development needs. From an environmental perspective, it is becoming increasingly clear that humanity’s current energy habits must change to reduce significant public health risks, avoid placing intolerable stresses on critical natural systems, and, in particular, to manage the substantial risks posed by global climate change.

By spurring the development of alternatives to today’s conventional fuels, a sustainable energy transition could also help to address the energy security concerns that are again at the forefront of many nations’ domestic and foreign policy agendas, thereby reducing the likelihood that competition for finite and unevenly distributed oil and gas resources will fuel growing geopolitical tensions in the decades ahead. Finally, increased access to clean, affordable, high-quality fuels and electricity could generate multiple benefits for the world’s poor, easing the day-to-day struggle to secure basic means of survival; enhancing educational opportunities; reducing substantial pollution-related health risks; freeing up scarce capital and human resources; facilitating the delivery of essential services, including basic medical care; and mitigating local environmental degradation.

Energy, in short, is central to the challenge of sustainability in all its dimensions: social, economic, and environmental. To this generation falls the task of charting a new course. Now and in the decades ahead no policy objective is more urgent than that of finding ways to produce and use energy that limit environmental degradation, preserve the integrity of underlying natural systems, and support rather than undermine progress toward a more stable, peaceful, equitable, and humane world. Many of the insights, knowledge, and tools needed to accomplish this transition already exist but more will almost certainly be needed. At bottom the decisive question comes down to this: Can we humans collectively grasp the magnitude of the problem and muster the leadership, endurance, and will to get the job done?

The enormity of the challenge
The task is as daunting as it is complex. Its dimensions are at once social, technological, economic, and political. They are also global. People everywhere around the world play a role in shaping the energy future through their behavior, lifestyle choices, and preferences. And all share a significant stake in achieving sustainable outcomes.

The momentum behind current energy trends is enormous and will be difficult to check in the context of high levels of existing consumption in many industrialized countries; continued population growth; rapid industrialization in developing countries; an entrenched, capital-intensive and long-lived energy infrastructure; and rising demand for energy-related services and amenities around the world. Although wide disparities exist in per capita energy consumption at the country level, relatively wealthy households everywhere tend to acquire similar energy-using devices. Therefore, the challenge and the opportunity exists—in industrialized and developing countries alike—to address resulting energy needs in a sustainable manner through effective demand- and supply-side solutions.

The prospects for success depend to a significant extent on whether nations can work together to ensure that the necessary financial resources, technical expertise, and political will are directed to accelerating the deployment of cleaner and more efficient technologies in the world’s rapidly industrializing economies. At the same time, current inequities that leave a large portion of the world’s population without access to modern forms of energy and therefore deprived of basic opportunities for human and economic development must also be addressed.

This could be achieved without compromising other sustainability objectives, particularly if simultaneous progress is achieved toward introducing new technologies and reducing energy intensity elsewhere throughout the world economy. The process of shifting away from a business-as-usual trajectory will necessarily be gradual and iterative: because essential elements of the energy infrastructure have an expected life on the order of one to several decades, dramatic changes in the macroscopic energy landscape will take time. The inevitable lag in the system, however, also creates grounds for great urgency. In light of growing environmental and energy security risks, significant global efforts to transit to a different landscape must begin within the next ten years. Delay only increases the difficulty of managing problems created by the world’s current energy systems, as well as the likelihood that more disruptive and costly adjustments will need to be made later.

The case for urgent action is underscored when the ecological realities, economic imperatives, and resource limitations that must be managed over the coming century are viewed in the context of present world energy trends. To take just two dimensions of the challenge—oil security and climate change—current forecasts by the International Energy Agency in its 2006 World Energy Outlook suggest that a continuation of business-as-usual trends will produce a nearly 40 percent increase in world oil consumption (compared to 2005 levels) (table, click to enlarge) and a 55 percent increase in carbon dioxide emissions (compared to 2004 levels) over the next quarter century (that is, by 2030).

In light of the widely held expectation that relatively cheap and readily accessible reserves of conventional petroleum will peak over the next few decades and mounting evidence that the responsible mitigation of climate-change risks will require significant reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions within the same timeframe, the scale of the mismatch between today’s energy trends and tomorrow’s sustainability needs speaks for itself.

Energy demand and efficiency
Achieving sustainability objectives will require changes not only in the way energy is supplied, but in the way it is used. Reducing the amount of energy required to deliver various goods, services, or amenities is one way to address the negative externalities associated with current energy systems and provides an essential complement to efforts aimed at changing the mix of energy supply technologies and resources.

Opportunities for improvement on the demand side of the energy equation are as rich and diverse as those on the supply side, and frequently offer significant near-term and long-term economic benefits. Widely varying per capita or per gross domestic product (GDP) levels of energy consumption across countries with comparable living standards—though certainly partly attributable to geographic, structural, and other factors—suggest that the potential to reduce energy consumption in many countries is substantial and can be achieved while simultaneously achieving significant quality-of-life improvements for the world’s poorest citizens.

For example, if measures of social welfare, such as the Human Development Index (HDI), are plotted against per capita consumption of modern forms of energy, such as electricity, one finds that some nations have achieved relatively high levels of wellbeing with much lower rates of energy consumption than other countries with a similar HDI, which is composed of health, education, and income indicators (graph, click to enlarge). From a sustainability perspective then, it is both possible and desirable to maximize progress toward improved social well-being while minimizing concomitant growth in energy consumption.

In most countries, energy intensity — that is, the ratio of energy consumed to goods and services provided — has been declining, albeit not at a rate sufficient to offset overall economic growth and reduce energy consumption in absolute terms. Boosting this rate of intensity decline should be a broadly held, public policy priority.

From a purely technological standpoint, the potential for improvement is clearly enormous: cutting-edge advances in engineering, materials, and system design have made it possible to construct buildings that demonstrate zero-net energy consumption and vehicles that achieve radically lower gasoline consumption per unit of distance traveled (graph: comparison of vehicle efficiency in different countries, click to enlarge). The challenge, of course, is to reduce the cost of these new technologies while overcoming a host of other real-world obstacles—from lack of information and split incentives to consumer preferences for product attributes at odds with maximizing energy efficiency—that often hamper the widespread adoption of these technologies by the marketplace.

Experience points to the availability of policy instruments for overcoming barriers to investments in improved efficiency even when such investments, based on energy and cost considerations alone, are highly cost-effective. The improvements in refrigerator technology that occurred as a result of appliance efficiency standards in the United States provide a compelling example of how public policy intervention can spur innovation, making it possible to achieve substantial efficiency gains while maintaining or improving the quality of the product or service being provided. Other examples can be found in efficiency standards for buildings, vehicles, and equipment; in addition to information and technical programs and financial incentive mechanisms.

Energy Supply
The world’s energy supply mix is currently dominated by fossil fuels. Now, coal, petroleum, and natural gas together supply roughly 80 percent of global primary energy demand. Traditional biomass, nuclear energy, and large-scale hydropower account largely for the remainder (graph, click to enlarge). Modern forms of renewable energy play only a relatively small role at present (on the order of a few percent of the world’s current supply mix).

Energy security concerns — particularly related to the availability of relatively cheap, conventional supplies of petroleum and, to a lesser extent, of natural gas — continue to be important drivers of national energy policy in many countries and a potent source of ongoing geopolitical tensions and economic vulnerability. Nevertheless, environmental limits, rather than supply constraints, seem likely to emerge as the more fundamental challenge associated with continued reliance on fossil fuels. World coal reserves alone are adequate to fuel several centuries of continued consumption at current levels and could provide a source of petroleum alternatives in the future. Without some means of addressing carbon emissions, however, continued reliance on coal for a large share of the world’s future energy mix would pose unacceptable climate-change risks.

Achieving sustainability objectives will require significant shifts in the current mix of supply resources toward a much larger role for low-carbon technologies and renewable energy sources, including advanced biofuels. The planet’s untapped renewable energy potential, in particular, is enormous and widely distributed in industrialized and developing countries alike. In many settings, exploiting this potential offers unique opportunities to advance both environmental and economic development objectives.

Recent developments, including substantial policy commitments, dramatic cost declines, and strong growth in many renewable energy industries are promising. However, significant technological and market hurdles remain and must be overcome for renewable energy to play a significantly larger role in the world’s energy mix. Advances in energy storage and conversion technologies and in enhancing long-distance electric transmission capability could do much to expand the resource base and reduce the costs associated with renewable energy development. Meanwhile, it is important to note that recent substantial growth in installed renewable capacity worldwide has been largely driven by the introduction of aggressive policies and incentives in a handful of countries. The expansion of similar commitments to other countries would further accelerate current rates of deployment and spur additional investment in continued technology improvements.

In addition to renewable means of producing electricity, such as wind, solar, and hydropower, biomass based fuels represent an important area of opportunity for displacing conventional petroleum-based transportation fuels. Ethanol from sugar cane is already an attractive option, provided reasonable environmental safeguards are applied. To further develop the world’s biofuels potential, intensive research and development efforts to advance a new generation of fuels based on the efficient conversion of lignocellulosic plant material are needed (table outlines research pathways for cellulosic biofuels, click to enlarge). At the same time, advances in molecular and systems biology show great promise for generating improved biomass feedstocks and much less energy-intensive methods of converting plant material into liquid fuel, such as through direct microbial production of fuels like butanol.

Integrated bio-refineries could, in the future, allow for the efficient co-production of electric power, liquid fuels, and other valuable co-products from sustainably managed biomass resources. Greatly expanded reliance on biofuels will, however, require further progress in reducing production costs; minimizing land, water, and fertilizer use; and addressing potential impacts on biodiversity. Biofuels options based on the conversion of lignocellulose rather than starches appear more promising in terms of minimizing competition between growing food and producing energy and in terms of maximizing the environmental benefits associated with biomass-based transportation fuels.

It will be equally important to hasten the development and deployment of a less carbon-intensive mix of fossil fuel-based technologies. Natural gas, in particular, has a critical role to play as a bridge fuel in the transition to more sustainable energy systems. Assuring access to adequate supplies of this relatively clean resource and promoting the diffusion of efficient gas technologies in a variety of applications is therefore an important public policy priority for the near to medium term.

Simultaneously, great urgency must be given to developing and commercializing technologies that would allow for the continued use of coal—the world’s most abundant fossil-fuel resource—in a manner that does not pose intolerable environmental risks. Despite increased scientific certainty and growing concern about climate change, the construction of long-lived, conventional, coal-fired power plants has continued and even accelerated in recent years. The substantial expansion of coal capacity that is now underway around the world may pose the single greatest challenge to future efforts aimed at stabilizing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. Managing the greenhouse gas ‘footprint’ of this existing capital stock, while making the transition to advanced conversion technologies that incorporate carbon capture and storage, thus represents a critical technological and economic challenge.

Nuclear technology could continue to contribute to future low-carbon energy supplies, provided significant concerns in terms of weapons proliferation, waste disposal, cost, and public safety (including vulnerability to acts of terrorism) can be—and are—addressed.

The role of government and the contribution of science and technology
Because markets will not produce desired outcomes unless the right incentives and price signals are in place, governments have a vital role to play in creating the conditions necessary to promote optimal results and support long-term investments in new energy infrastructure, energy research and development, and high-risk/high-payoff technologies.

Where the political will exists to create the conditions for a sustainable energy transition, a wide variety of policy instruments are available, from market incentives such as a price or cap on carbon emissions (which can be especially effective in influencing long-term capital investment decisions) to efficiency standards and building codes, which may be more effective than price signals in bringing about change on the end-use side of the equation. Longer term, important policy opportunities also exist at the level of city and land-use planning, including improved delivery systems for energy, water, and other services, as well as advanced mobility systems.

Science and technology (S&T) clearly have a major role to play in maximizing the potential and reducing the cost of existing energy options while also developing new technologies that will expand the menu of future options (table shows major research opportunities in the energy sector, click to enlarge). To make good on this promise, the S&T community must have access to the resources needed to pursue already promising research areas and to explore more distant possibilities. Current worldwide investment in energy research and development is widely considered to be inadequate to the challenges at hand.

Accordingly, a substantial increase—on the order of at least a doubling of current expenditures—in the public and private resources directed to advancing critical energy technology priorities is needed. Cutting subsidies to established energy industries could provide some of the resources needed while simultaneously reducing incentives for excess consumption and other distortions that remain common to energy markets in many parts of the world. It will be necessary to ensure that public expenditures in the future are directed and applied more effectively, both to address well-defined priorities and targets for research and development in critical energy technologies and to pursue needed advances in basic science. At the same time, it will be important to enhance collaboration, cooperation, and coordination across institutions and national boundaries in the effort to deploy improved technologies.

Achieving a sustainable energy future requires the participation of all. But there is a division of labor in implementing the various recommendations of this report. The Study Panel has identified the following principal ‘actors’ that must take responsibility for achieving results:
  • Multi-national organizations (e.g., United Nations, World Bank, regional development banks)
  • Governments (national, regional, and local)
  • S&T community (and academia)
  • Private sector (businesses, industry, foundations)
  • Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)
  • Media
  • General public

Conclusions, recommendations, actions

Based on the key points developed in this report, the Study Panel offers the following conclusions with recommendations and respective actions by the principal actors.

Conclusion 1: the poor first

Meeting the basic energy needs of the poorest people on this planet is a moral and social imperative that can and must be pursued in concert with sustainability objectives. Today, an estimated 2.4 billion people use coal, charcoal, firewood, agricultural residues, or dung as their primary cooking fuel. Roughly 1.6 billion people worldwide live without electricity. Vast numbers of people, especially women and girls, are deprived of economic and educational opportunities without access to affordable, basic labor-saving devices or adequate lighting, added to the time each day spent gathering fuel and water.

The indoor air pollution caused by traditional cooking fuels exposes millions of families to substantial health risks. Providing modern forms of energy to the world’s poor could generate multiple benefits, easing the day-to-day struggle to secure basic means of survival; reducing substantial pollution-related health risks; freeing up scarce capital and human resources; facilitating the delivery of essential services, including basic medical care; and mitigating local environmental degradation. Receiving increased international attention, these linkages were a major focus of the 2002 World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, which recognized the importance of expanded access to reliable and affordable energy services as a prerequisite for achieving the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals.

Place priority on achieving much greater access of the world's poor to clean, affordable, high-quality fuels and electricity. The challenge of expanding access to modern forms of energy revolves primarily around issues of social equity and distribution — the fundamental problem is not one of inadequate global resources, unacceptable environmental damage, or unavailable technologies. Addressing the basic energy needs of the world’s poor is clearly central to the larger goal of sustainable development and must be a top priority for the international community if some dent is to be made in reducing current inequities.

Formulate policy at all levels, from global to village scale, with greater awareness of the substantial inequalities in access to energy services that now exist, not only between countries but between populations within the same country and even between households within the same town or village.

In many developing countries, a small elite uses energy in much the same way as in the industrialized world, while most of the rest of the population relies on traditional, often poor-quality and highly polluting forms of energy. In other developing countries, energy consumption by a growing middle class is contributing significantly to global energy demand growth and is substantially raising national per capita consumption rates, despite little change in the consumption patterns of the very poor.

The reality that billions of people suffer from limited access to electricity and clean cooking fuels must not be lost in per capita statistics.

  • Given the international dimension of the problem, multinational organizations like the United Nations and the World Bank should take the initiative to draw up a plan for eliminating the energy poverty of the world’s poor. As a first step, governments and NGOs can assist by supplying data on the extent of the problem in their countries.
  • The private sector and the S&T community can help promote the transfer of appropriate technologies. The private sector can, in addition, help by making appropriate investments.
  • The media should make the general public aware of the enormity of the problem.

Conclusion 2: improving energy efficiency and reducing carbon intensity

Concerted efforts must be made to improve energy efficiency and reduce the carbon intensity of the world economy. Economic competitiveness, energy security, and environmental considerations all argue for pursuing cost-effective, end-use efficiency opportunities. Such opportunities may be found throughout industry, transportation, and the built environment. To maximize efficiency gains and minimize costs, improvements should be incorporated in a holistic manner and from the ground up wherever possible, especially where long-lived infrastructure is involved. At the same time, it will be important to avoid underestimating the difficulty of achieving nominal energy efficiency gains, as frequently happens when analyses assume that reduced energy use is an end in itself rather than an objective regularly traded against other desired attributes.

Promote the enhanced dissemination of technology improvement and innovation between industrialized and developing countries. It will be especially important for all nations to work together to ensure that developing countries adopt cleaner and more efficient technologies as they industrialize.

Align economic incentives—especially for durable capital investments—with long-run sustainability objectives and cost considerations. Incentives for regulated energy service providers should be structured to encourage co-investment in cost-effective efficiency improvements, and profits should be delinked from energy sales.

Adopt policies aimed at accelerating the worldwide rate of decline in the carbon intensity of the global economy, where carbon intensity is measured as carbon dioxide equivalent emissions divided by gross world product, a crude measure of global well-being. Specifically, the Study Panel recommends immediate policy action to introduce meaningful price signals for avoided greenhouse gas emissions. Less important than the initial prices is that clear expectations be established concerning a predictable escalation of those prices over time. Merely holding carbon dioxide emissions constant over the next several decades implies that the carbon intensity of the world economy needs to decline at roughly the same rate as gross world product grows—achieving the absolute reductions in global emissions needed to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases will require the worldwide rate of decline in carbon intensity to begin outpacing worldwide economic growth.

Enlist cities as a major driving force for the rapid implementation of practical steps to improve energy efficiency.

Inform consumers about the energy-use characteristics of products through labeling and implement mandatory minimum efficiency standards for appliances and equipment. Standards should be regularly updated and must be effectively enforced.

  • Governments, in a dialogue with the private sector and the S&T community, should develop and implement (further) policies and regulations aimed at achieving greater energy efficiency and lower energy intensity for a great variety of processes, services, and products.
  • The general public must be made aware, by governments, the media, and NGOs of the meaning and necessity of such policies and regulations.
  • The S&T community should step up its efforts to research and develop new, low-energy technologies.
  • Governments, united in intergovernmental organizations, should agree on realistic price signals for carbon emissions—recognizing that the economies and energy systems of different countries will result in different individual strategies and trajectories—and make these price signals key components of further actions on reducing the carbon emissions.
  • The private sector and the general public should insist that governments issue clear carbon price signals.

Conclusion 3: carbon capture and storage technologies needed, including carbon-negative bioenergy

Technologies for capturing and sequestering carbon from fossil fuels, particularly coal, can play a major role in the cost-effective management of global carbon dioxide emissions. As the world’s most abundant fossil fuel, coal will continue to play a large role in the world’s energy mix. It is also the most carbon-intensive conventional fuel in use, generating almost twice as much carbon dioxide per unit of energy supplied than natural gas. Today, new coal-fired power plants—most of which can be expected to last more than half a century—are being constructed at an unprecedented rate. Moreover, the carbon contribution from coal could expand further if nations with large coal reserves like the United States, China, and India turn to coal to address energy security concerns and develop alternatives to petroleum.

Accelerate the development and deployment of advanced coal technologies. Without policy interventions the vast majority of the coal-fired power plants constructed in the next two decades will be conventional, pulverized coal plants. Present technologies for capturing carbon dioxide emissions from pulverized coal plants on a retrofit basis are expensive and energy intensive. Where new coal plants without capture must be constructed, the most efficient technologies should be used. In addition, priority should be given to minimize the costs of future retrofits for carbon capture by developing at least some elements of carbon capture technology at every new plant. Active efforts to develop such technologies for different types of base plants are currently underway and should be encouraged by promoting the construction of full-scale plants that utilize the latest technology advances.

Aggressively pursue efforts to commercialize carbon capture and storage. Moving forward with full-scale demonstration projects is critical, as is continued study and experimentation to reduce costs, improve reliability, and address concerns about leakage, public safety, and other issues. For capture and sequestration to be widely implemented, it will be necessary to develop regulations and to introduce price signals for carbon emissions. Based on current cost estimates, the Study Panel believes price signals on the order of US$100–150 per avoided metric ton of carbon equivalent (US$27–41 per ton of carbon dioxide equivalent) will be required to induce the widespread adoption of carbon capture and storage. Price signals at this level would also give impetus to the accelerated deployment of biomass and other renewable energy technologies.

Explore potential retrofit technologies for post-combustion carbon capture suitable for the large and rapidly growing population of existing pulverized coal plants. In the near term, efficiency improvements and advanced pollution control technologies should be applied to existing coal plants as a means of mitigating their immediate climate change and public health impacts.

Pursue carbon capture and storage with systems that co-fire coal and biomass. This technology combination provides an opportunity to achieve net negative greenhouse gas emissions—effectively removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (Note: this is a combination of technologies the Biopact has been striving to disemminate - earlier post).

  • The private sector and the S&T community should join forces to further investigate the possibilities for carbon capture and sequestration and develop adequate technologies for demonstration.
  • Governments should facilitate the development of these technologies by making available funds and opportunities (such as test sites).
  • The general public needs to be thoroughly informed about the advantages of carbon sequestration and about the relative manageability of associated risks. The media can assist with this.

Conclusion 4: alternatives to oil and gas

Competition for oil and natural gas supplies has the potential to become a source of growing geopolitical tension and economic vulnerability for many nations in the decades ahead. In many developing countries, expenditures for energy imports also divert scarce resources from other urgent public health, education, and infrastructure development needs. The transport sector accounts for just 25 percent of primary energy consumption worldwide, but the lack of fuel diversity in this sector makes transport fuels especially valuable.

Introduce policies and regulations that promote reduced energy consumption in the transport sector by (a) improving the energy efficiency of automobiles and other modes of transport and (b) improving the efficiency of transport systems (e.g., through investments in mass transit, better land-use and city planning, etc.).

Develop alternatives to petroleum to meet the energy needs of the transport sector, including biomass fuels, plug-in hybrids, and compressed natural gas, as well as — in the longer run — advanced alternatives, such as hydrogen fuel cells.

Implement policies to ensure that the development of petroleum alternatives is pursued in a manner that is compatible with other sustainability objectives. Current methods for liquefying coal and extracting oil from unconventional sources, such as tar sands and shale oil, generate substantially higher levels of carbon dioxide and other pollutant emissions compared to conventional petroleum consumption. Even with carbon capture and sequestration, a liquid fuel derived from coal will at best produce emissions of carbon dioxide roughly equivalent to those of conventional petroleum at the point of combustion. If carbon emissions from the conversion process are not captured and stored, total fuel-cycle emissions for this energy pathway as much as double. The conversion of natural gas to liquids is less carbon intensive than coal to liquids, but biomass remains the only near-term feedstock that has the potential to be truly carbon-neutral and sustainable on a long-term basis. In all cases, full fuel-cycle impacts depend critically on the feedstock being used and on the specific extraction or conversion methods being employed.

  • Governments should introduce (further) policies and regulations aimed at reducing energy consumption and developing petroleum alternatives for use in the transport sector.
  • The private sector and the S&T community should continue developing technologies adequate to that end.
  • The general public’s awareness of sustainability issues related to transportation energy use should be significantly increased. The media can play an important role in this effort.

Conclusion 5: nuclear power welcomed, but with caution

As a low-carbon resource, nuclear power can continue to make a significant contribution to the world’s energy portfolio in the future, but only if major concerns related to capital cost, safety, and weapons proliferation are addressed. Nuclear power plants generate no carbon dioxide or conventional air pollutant emissions during operation, use a relatively abundant fuel feedstock, and involve orders-of-magnitude smaller mass flows, relative to fossil fuels. Nuclear’s potential, however, is currently limited by concerns related to cost, waste management, proliferation risks, and plant safety (including concerns about vulnerability to acts of terrorism and concerns about the impact of neutron damage on plant materials in the case of life extensions). A sustained role for nuclear power will require addressing these hurdles.

Replace the current fleet of aging reactors with plants that incorporate improved intrinsic (passive) safety features.

Address cost issues by pursuing the development of standardized reactor designs.

Understand the impact of long-term aging on nuclear reactor systems (e.g., neutron damage to materials) and provide for the safe and economic decommissioning of existing plants.

Develop safe, retrievable waste management solutions based on dry cask storage as longer-term disposal options are explored. While long-term disposal in stable geological repositories is technically feasible, finding socially acceptable pathways to implement this solution remains a significant challenge.

Address the risk that civilian nuclear materials and knowledge will be diverted to weapons applications (a) through continued research on proliferation-resistant uranium enrichment and fuel-recycling capability and on safe, fast neutron reactors that can burn down waste generated from thermal neutron reactors and (b) through efforts to remedy shortcomings in existing international frameworks and governance mechanisms.

Undertake a transparent and objective re-examination of the issues surrounding nuclear power and their potential solutions. The results of such a reexamination should be used to educate the public and policymakers.

  • Given the controversy over the future of nuclear power worldwide, the United Nations should commission—as soon as possible—a transparent and objective re-examination of the issues that surround nuclear power and their potential solutions. It is essential that the general public be informed about the outcome of this re-examination.
  • The private sector and the S&T community should continue research and development efforts targeted at improving reactor safety and developing safe waste management solutions.
  • Governments should facilitate the replacement of the current fleet of aging reactors with modern, safer plants. Governments and intergovernmental organizations should enhance their efforts to remedy shortcomings in existing international frameworks and governance mechanisms.

Conclusion 6: supporting non-biomass renewables

Renewable energy in its many forms offers immense opportunities for technological progress and innovation. Over the next 30–60 years, sustained efforts must be directed toward realizing these opportunities as part of a comprehensive strategy that supports a diversity of resource options over the next century. The fundamental challenge for most renewable options involves cost-effectively tapping inherently diffuse and in some cases intermittent resources. Sustained, long-term support—in various forms—is needed to overcome these hurdles. Renewable energy development can provide important benefits in underdeveloped and developing countries because oil, gas, and other fuels are hard cash commodities.

Implement policies—including policies that generate price signals for avoided carbon emissions—to ensure that the environmental benefits of renewable resources relative to non-renewable resources will be systematically recognized in the marketplace.

Provide subsidies and other forms of public support for the early deployment of new renewable technologies. Subsidies should be targeted to promising but not-yet-commercial technologies and decline gradually over time.

Explore alternate policy mechanisms to nurture renewable energy technologies, such as renewable portfolio standards (which set specific goals for renewable energy deployment) and ‘reverse auctions’ (in which renewable energy developers bid for a share of limited public funds on the basis of the minimum subsidy they require on a per kilowatt-hour basis).

Invest in research and development on more transformational technologies, such as new classes of solar cells that can be made with thin-film, continuous fabrication processes.

Conduct sustained research to assess and mitigate any negative environmental impacts associated with the large-scale deployment of renewable energy technologies. Although these technologies offer many environmental benefits, they may also pose new environmental risks as a result of their low power density and the consequently large land area required for large-scale deployment.

  • Governments should substantially facilitate the use—in an environmentally sustainable way—of renewable energy resources through adequate policies and subsidies. A major policy step in this direction would include implementing clear price signals for avoided greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Governments should also promote research and development in renewable energy technologies by supplying significantly more public funding.
  • The private sector, aided by government subsidies, should seek entrepreneurial opportunities in the growing renewable energy market.
  • The S&T community should devote more attention to overcoming the cost and technology barriers that currently limit the contribution of renewable energy sources.
  • NGOs can assist in promoting the use of renewable energy sources in developing countries.
  • The media can play an essential role in heightening the general public’s awareness of issues related to renewable energy.

Conclusion 7: biofuels hold great promise for simultaneously addressing climate-change and energy-security concerns

Improvements in agriculture will allow for food production adequate to support a predicted peak world population on the order of 9 billion people with excess capacity for growing energy crops. Maximizing the potential contribution of biofuels requires commercializing methods for producing fuels from lignocellulosic feedstocks (including agricultural residues and wastes), which have the potential to generate five to ten times more fuel than processes that use starches from feedstocks, such as sugar cane and corn. Recent advances in molecular and systems biology show great promise in developing improved feedstocks and much less energy-intensive means of converting plant material into liquid fuel. In addition, intrinsically more efficient conversion of sunlight, water, and nutrients into chemical energy may be possible with microbes.

Conduct intensive research into the production of biofuels based on lignocellulose conversion.

Invest in research and development on direct microbial production of butanol or other forms of biofuels that may be superior to ethanol.

Implement strict regulations to insure that the cultivation of biofuels feedstocks accords with sustainable agricultural practices and promotes biodiversity, habitat protection, and other land management objectives.

Develop advanced bio-refineries that use biomass feedstocks to self-generate power and extract higher-value co-products. Such refineries have the potential to maximize economic and environmental gains from the use of biomass resources.

Develop improved biofuels feedstocks through genetic selection and/or molecular engineering, including drought resistant and self-fertilizing plants that require minimal tillage and fertilizer or chemical inputs.

Mount a concerted effort to collect and analyze data on current uses of biomass by type and technology (both direct and for conversion to other fuels), including traditional uses of biomass.

Conduct sustained research to assess and mitigate any adverse environmental or ecosystem impacts associated with the large-scale cultivation of biomass energy feedstocks, including impacts related to competition with other land uses (including uses for habitat preservation and food production), water needs, etc.

  • The S&T community and the private sector should greatly augment their research and development (and deployment) efforts toward more efficient, environmentally sustainable technologies and processes for the production of modern biofuels.
  • Governments can help by stepping up public research and development funding and by adapting existing subsidy and fiscal policies so as to favor the use of biofuels over that of fossil fuels, especially in the transport sector.
  • Governments should pay appropriate attention to promoting sustainable means of biofuels production and to avoiding conflicts between biofuel production and food production.

Conclusion 8: development of new infrastructures

The development of cost-effective energy storage technologies, new energy carriers, and improved transmission infrastructure could substantially reduce costs and expand the contribution from a variety of energy supply options.

Such technology improvements and infrastructure investments are particularly important to tap the full potential of intermittent renewable resources, especially in cases where some of the most abundant and cost-effective resource opportunities exist far from load centers. Improved storage technologies, new energy carriers, and enhanced transmission and distribution infrastructure will also facilitate the delivery of modern energy services to the world’s poor—especially in rural areas.

Continue long-term research and development into potential new energy carriers for the future, such as hydrogen. Hydrogen can be directly combusted or used to power a fuel cell and has a variety of potential applications, including as an energy source for generating electricity or in other stationary applications and as an alternative to petroleum fuels for aviation and road transport. Cost and infrastructure constraints, however, are likely to delay widespread commercial viability until mid-century or later.

Develop improved energy storage technologies, either physical (e.g., compressed air or elevated water storage) or chemical (e.g., batteries, hydrogen, or hydrocarbon fuel produced from the reduction of carbon dioxide) that could significantly improve the market prospects of intermittent renewable resources, such as wind and solar power.

Pursue continued improvements and cost reductions in technologies for transmitting electricity over long distances. High-voltage, direct-current transmission lines, in particular, could be decisive in making remote areas accessible for renewable energy development, improving grid reliability, and maximizing the contribution from a variety of low-carbon electricity sources. In addition, it will be important to improve overall grid management and performance through the development and application of advanced or ‘smart’ grid technologies that could greatly enhance the responsiveness and reliability of electricity transmission and distribution networks.

  • The S&T community, together with the private sector, should have focus on research and development in this area.
  • Governments can assist by increasing public funding for research and development and by facilitating needed infrastructure investments.

Conclusion 9: S&T community needs to be engaged

The S&T community — together with the general public — has a critical role to play in advancing sustainable energy solutions and must be effectively engaged.

As noted repeatedly in the foregoing recommendations, the energy challenges of this century and beyond demand sustained progress in developing, demonstrating, and deploying new and improved energy technologies. These advances will need to come from the S&T community, motivated and supported by appropriate policies, incentives, and market drivers.

Provide increased funding for public investments in sustainable energy research and development, along with incentives and market signals to promote increased private-sector investments.

Effect greater coordination of technology efforts internationally, along with efforts to focus universities and research institutions on the sustainability challenge.

Conduct rigorous analysis and scenario development to identify possible combinations of energy resources and end-use and supply technologies that have the potential to simultaneously address the multiple sustainability challenges linked to energy.

Stimulate efforts to identify and assess specific changes in institutions, regulations, market incentives, and policy that would most effectively advance sustainable energy solutions.

Create an increased focus on specifically energy-relevant awareness, education, and training across all professional fields with a role to play in the sustainable energy transition.

Initiate concerted efforts to inform and educate the public about important aspects of the sustainable energy challenge, such as the connection between current patterns of energy production and use and critical environmental and security risks.

Begin enhanced data collection efforts to support better decision-making in important policy areas that are currently characterized by a lack of reliable information (large cities in many developing countries, for example, lack the basic data needed to plan effectively for transportation needs).

The S&T community must strive for better international coordination of energy research and development efforts, partly in collaboration with the private sector. It should seek to articulate a focused, collaborative agenda aimed at addressing key obstacles to a sustainable energy future.

  • Governments (and intergovernmental organizations) must make more public funding available to not only boost the existing contribution from the S&T community but also to attract more scientists and engineers to working on sustainable energy problems.
  • The why and how of energy research and development should be made transparent to the general public to build support for the significant and sustained investments that will be needed to address long-term sustainability needs.
  • The S&T community itself, intergovernmental organizations, governments, NGOs, the media, and—to a lesser extent—the private sector should be actively engaged in educating the public about the need for these investments.

Lighting the Way: it can be done
While the current energy outlook is very sobering, the Study Panel believes that there are sustainable solutions to the energy problem. Aggressive support of energy science and technology must be coupled with incentives that accelerate the concurrent development and deployment of innovative solutions that can transform the entire landscape of energy demand and supply. Opportunities to substitute superior supply-side and end-use technologies exist throughout the world’s energy systems, but current investment flows generally do not reflect these opportunities.

Science and engineering provide guiding principles for the sustainability agenda. Science provides the basis for a rational discourse about trade-offs and risks, for selecting research and development priorities, and for identifying new opportunities—openness is one of its dominant values. Engineering, through the relentless optimization of the most promising technologies, can deliver solutions—learning by doing is among its dominant values. Better results will be achieved if many avenues are explored in parallel, if outcomes are evaluated with actual performance measures, if results are reported widely and fully, and if strategies are open to revision and adaptation.

Long-term energy research and development is thus an essential component of the pursuit of sustainability. Significant progress can be achieved with existing technology but the scale of the long-term challenge will demand new solutions. The research community must have the means to pursue promising technology pathways that are already in view and some that may still be over the horizon.

The transition to sustainable energy systems also requires that market incentives be aligned with sustainability objectives. In particular, robust price signals for avoided carbon emissions are critical to spur the development and deployment of low-carbon energy technologies. Such price signals can be phased in gradually, but expectations about how they will change over time must be established in advance and communicated clearly so that businesses can plan with confidence and optimize their long-term capital investments.

Critical to the success of all the tasks ahead are the abilities of individuals and institutions to effect changes in energy resources and usage. Capacity building, both in terms of investments in individual expertise and institutional effectiveness, must become an urgent priority of all principal actors: multi-national organizations, governments, corporations, educational institutions, non-profit organizations, and the media. Above all, the general public must be provided with sound information about the choices ahead and the actions required for achieving a sustainable energy future.


In February 2005, at the request of the Governments of China and Brazil, and with strong support from then-United Nations Secretary-General Mr. Kofi Annan, the InterAcademy Council Board decided to launch an in-depth study on how to achieve global transitions to an adequately affordable, sustainable, clean energy supply.

After appointing the panel—which includes experts from Brazil, China, Europe, India, Japan, Russia, the US and other nations—the IAC commissioned 19 reports to inform seven energy workshops held in 2005 and 2006. The report underwent an extensive, monitored peer review and incorporates the analysis and actions of leading global energy and development institutions, such as the United Nations Development Program, the World Bank and the International Energy Agency.

There are three key questions addressed in the study:
  • How can we provide universal access to affordable, modern power?
  • What is the most efficient way to address environmental costs?
  • How can we establish energy security?
The IAC Co-Chairs appointed an Organizing Group consisting of Drs. José Goldemberg (Chair), Shem Arungu Olende, Li Jinghai, Rob Socolow, Nebosja Nakicenovic, Mohamed El-Ashry, Rajendra Pachauri, and Michael Phelps.

The Organizing Group advised the IAC to commission a total of 19 papers on various topics considered important for the study, as “intellectual start capital” for the Study Panel. This advice was carried out; 16 papers were received and used as background/discussion material in workshops.

Taking into consideration nominations from science and engineering academies and advice from the Organizing Group, the IAC Board formally approved in September 2005 a slate of candidates. Fifteen persons were subsequently appointed to the Study Panel:

Two Study Panel Co-Chairs:
  • Steven Chu (USA), Director, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory & Professor of Physics and Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California, Berkeley
  • José Goldemberg (Brazil), Professor of the University of São Paulo, Brazil

Thirteen Study Panel Members were: Shem Arungu Olende (Kenya), Secretary-General, African Academy of Sciences & Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Queconsult Ltd; Ged Davis (UK), Co-President, Global Energy Assessment, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA); Mohamed El-Ashry (Egypt), Senior Fellow, UN Foundation; Thomas B. Johansson (Sweden), Professor of Energy Systems Analysis and Director of the International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics (IIIEE) at Lund University; David Keith (Canada), Director, ISEEE Energy and Environmental Systems Group & Professor and Canada Research Chair in Energy and the Environment, University of Calgary; Li Jinghai (China), Vice President of the Chinese Academy of Sciences; Nebosja Nakicenovic (Austria), Professor of Energy Economics at Vienna University of Technology & Leader of Energy and Technology Programs at IIASA (International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis); Rajendra Pachauri (India), Director-General, The Energy and Resources Institute & Chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007 Nobel Peace Prize Winner); Majid Shafie-Pour (Iran), Professor of Environmental Engineering (Energy, Air Pollution and Climate Change), Faculty of Environment, University of Tehran; Evald Shpilrain (Russia), Professor of Thermophysics and Renewable Energy Sources, Corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), Advisor to the RAS; Robert Socolow (USA), Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton University; Kenji Yamaji (Japan), Professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Tokyo, Member of Science Council of Japan, Vice-Chair of IIASA Council & Chairman of the Green Power Certification Council of Japa; and Yan Luguang (China), Chairman of the Scientific Committee of Institute of Electrical Engineering, Chinese Academy of Sciences & Honorary President of Ningbo University.

The work of the Study Panel was assisted by Jos van Renswoude, Study Director; Dilip Ahuja, Professor, Indian National Institute of Advanced Studies, as Special Advisor to the Study Panel; and Marika Tatsutani, writer and editor.

The Study Panel convened seven workshops—most hosted by national scientific academies— to obtain additional insights into energy issues facing different regions of the world.

Financial contributions for this study have been gratefully received from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Government of Brazil, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the United Nations Foundation, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, and the Energy Foundation.

InterAcademy Council: Lighting the Way: Toward a Sustainable Energy Future - October 2007.

The Study Panel convened seven workshops - most hosted by national scientific academies — to obtain additional insights into energy issues facing different regions of the world. For more information on the workshops, click here.

An international teleconference [*.mp3] was held Monday, October 22 at 2 PM GMT for reporters to address questions to members of the IAC study panel that wrote the new report 'Lighting the Way: Toward a Sustainable Energy Future.'

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GS CleanTech to produce biodiesel from corn ethanol co-product

GS CleanTech Corporation announced its execution of an agreement with Northeast Biofuels (NEB), to extract about 10 million gallons per year of crude corn oil from the distillers grain co-product from NEB’s new 114 million gallon per year dry mill ethanol plant scheduled to commence operations later this year.

Traditional ethanol processing converts each bushel of corn, which weighs about 54 pounds, into about 18 pounds of ethanol, 18 pounds of carbon dioxide, and 18 pounds of distillers dried grains (DDG), which contain about 2 pounds of fat. This corresponds to about 2.8 gallons of fuel production per bushel of corn. GS CleanTech's ambition is to increase this efficiency as much as possible by converting DDG into an additional stream of biodiesel.

The abundant DDGs have a low value as an animal feed (previous post). But scientists have been looking at potentially more interesting uses, and found applications as an organic fertiliser and herbicide, a solid biofuel for co-firing with coal, or a feedstock for biogas production. Others take the research a step further and see DDGs suitable for making green chemicals like polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) used for the production of biodegradable plastics (earlier post).

GS CleanTech thinks extracting the oil from the dried grains offers a commercially interesting opportunity for the production of biodiesel. It developed patent-pending 'Corn Oil Extraction Systems' (schematic, click to enlarge), engineered to help ethanol producers increase cash flows through the introduction of the new revenue stream. GS CleanTech provides extraction systems to participating ethanol producers at no cost to the ethanol producers in return for the long-term right to purchase the extracted corn oil at a per pound premium to its value when trapped in the distiller’s grains. GS CleanTech says its extraction technology also reduces overall plant emissions and utility costs by upwards of $1 million per year for a 100 million gallon per year ethanol plant that dries 100% of its distiller’s grains.

GS CleanTech has now partnered with NEB to demonstrate the technology. NEB is building its ethanol facility on the site of a former brewery at the 420-acre Riverview Business Park in Volney, NY, about 25 miles north of Syracuse. When the plant opens, it will annually produce 114 million gallons of corn ethanol and become the first large scale operating ethanol plant in New York State and the Northeast.

NEB and its on-site project participants, BOC Gases, and now GS CleanTech, will directly and indirectly employ approximately 100 workers, with an estimated 1,500-plus spin-off jobs created in agriculture, transportation and other sectors of the Upstate New York economy. Because of its strategic Upstate New York location, NEB will have low cost access to markets representing more than 2.3 billion gallons of potential ethanol demand in the Northeast US and Eastern Canada.
The best way to [defray risk] is to implement 'plug and play' technologies that enhance the yields and operating efficiencies of the traditional ethanol production process. Our corn oil extraction technology is the first of several technologies that meet that goal that we are bringing to market to meet that objective. - David Winsness, GS CleanTech’s President and Chief Executive Officer
GS CleanTech has commenced work on the NEB extraction systems and is targeting an early 2008 commissioning:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

GS CleanTech’s affiliated fuel production company, GS AgriFuels Corporation, previously announced its intention to finance, build and operate a 10 million gallon per year biodiesel facility adjacent to the NEB facility. This facility will be designed to convert corn oil into biodiesel, which GS AgriFuels intends to sell locally in New York. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority ('NYSERDA') previously awarded a $250,000 grant to support the construction of this biodiesel production facility.

GS CleanTech and GS AgriFuels have partnered in the full scale commercialization of their technologies. GS CleanTech provides technology-centric services in return for process engineering and plant construction sales, ongoing technology royalties and selected feedstock sales. GS AgriFuels provides all of the capital for the construction of the extraction and biodiesel production facilities and generates revenues through its ownership of the biodiesel production assets.

GS CleanTech and GS AgriFuels are both majority owned by GreenShift Corporation, a company devoted to facilitating the efficient use of natural resources.

GS CleanTech: overview of corn oil extraction systems, includig some pictures and a video of operational systems.

Biopact: Ethanol byproduct boosts crop yields, acts as herbicide - May 07, 2007

Biopact: Schmack Biogas to build biogas plant coupled to ethanol facility, fed by residues - September 24, 2007

Biopact: Steps to biorefining: new products from biofuel leftovers - August 10, 2007

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Researchers find effects of NOx emissions in urban areas worse than thought

A team of U.S. scientists has found that the harmful effects of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from fossil fuels could be worse in urban areas than previously thought. They were the first to conduct a large scale, 3-year study based on methods for tracing sources of nitrate in rainfall. Results have been published in the online edition of the journal Environmental Science and Technology. The news is important for the bioenergy community, because some biofuels (ethanol, first generation biodiesel) produce more NOx than conventional fossil fuels, whereas others (notably synthetic biofuels) emit significantly less.

The researchers say nitrogen oxides, the noxious byproduct of burning fossil fuels in cars and power stations that can return to Earth in rain and snow as harmful nitrate, could taint urban water supplies and roadside waterways more than scientists and regulators realize.

The three-year study, led by Emily Elliott, a professor of geology and planetary science in the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Arts and Sciences, recommends that urban areas and roadways be specifically monitored for nitrogen deposition. Nitrogen oxides can contribute to a wide variety of environmental and health ills. Nitrate — which forms when exhaust from vehicles and smokestacks oxidizes in the atmosphere — is an important contributor to acid rain and can result in stream and soil acidification, forest decline, and coastal water degradation. Other researchers recently reported that ecosystems recover much slower from this acid rain damage than previously thought (earlier post).

Elliott and her colleagues conducted the first large-scale application of a method for determining the source of atmospheric nitrate on rain and snow samples from 33 precipitation collection sites across the Midwestern and Northeastern United States, including Pennsylvania. The sites belong to the National Atmospheric Deposition Program (NADP), a cooperative of private organizations and U.S. government agencies that analyzes precipitation for chemicals such as nitrogen, sulfur, and mercury from more than 250 sites in the United States, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

Although vehicles are the single largest source of nitrogen oxides in this region, the researchers found by analyzing the stable isotope composition of nitrate that the primary source of nitrate in their samples were stationary sources, such as power plants and factories, located hundreds of miles away. Stationary sources pump pollutants high into the atmosphere where they can be transported for long distances before falling to the ground. Vehicle exhaust is released close to the ground and more likely deposited over shorter distances near roadways. Most monitoring sites in the NADP network are deliberately located in relatively rural settings away from urban, industrial, or agricultural centers.

The amount of nitrate pouring over the cities and busy roadways thick with vehicles could be higher than monitoring data at most NADP sites reflect, and it is possible that a significant amount of this atmospheric nitrate finds its way into sensitive water supplies:
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The researchers give the example of vulnerable water bodies such as the Ohio River or Chesapeake Bay. In aquatic ecosystems, excess nitrate can promote an overgrowth of oxygen-consuming algae and lead to an oxygen deficiency in the water known as hypoxia. Hypoxia kills marine creatures and creates 'dead zones' akin to the lifeless area of the Gulf of Mexico at the mouth of the Mississippi River. Determining the fate of major sources of nitrogen emissions is necessary to develop sound regulatory and mitigation strategies for both air and water quality, Elliott said.

The results highlight the need to improve our understanding of the fate of vehicle emissions—one way we can do this is by expanding monitoring networks to include more urban sites, Elliott said, adding that both vehicle and stationary sources are major contributors to air pollution in the region studied.

Elliott said that future research will further characterize the isotopic ratios of nitrogen oxides from various emission sources and quantify how these values change during transport and with different emission controls. She is looking for industrial partners who can provide samples from smokestacks for analysis.

Additionally, Elliott is interested in establishing an urban precipitation monitoring site in Pittsburgh to assess pollution sources that contribute to nitrate deposition in the Pittsburgh region.

Other researchers involved in this project are from the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of California at Berkeley, the NADP, and Cornell University, and the Institute of Ecosystem Studies in New York.

E. M. Elliott, et al., "Nitrogen Isotopes as Indicators of NOx Source Contributions to Atmospheric Nitrate Deposition Across the Midwestern and Northeastern United States", Environ. Sci. Technol., ASAP Article 10.1021/es070898t S0013-936X(07)00898-X, October 20, 2007

Biopact: Research finds recovery from acid rain much slower than expected - September 29, 2007

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North Atlantic too slows on the uptake of CO2

Further evidence for the decline of the oceans’ historical role as an important sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide is supplied by new research by environmental scientists from the University of East Anglia. A slowdown in the sink in the Southern Ocean had already been inferred (earlier post), but the change in the North Atlantic is greater and more sudden, and could be responsible for a substantial proportion of the observed weakening.

Since the industrial revolution, much of the CO2 we have released into the atmosphere has been taken up by the world’s oceans which act as a strong ‘sink’ for the emissions (map, click to enlarge). This has slowed climate change. Without this uptake, CO2 levels would have risen much faster and the climate would be warming more rapidly.

A paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research by Dr Ute Schuster and Professor Andrew Watson of UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences again raises concerns that the oceans might be slowing their uptake of CO2. Results of their decade-long study in the North Atlantic show that the uptake in this ocean, which is the most intense sink for atmospheric CO2, slowed down dramatically between the mid-nineties and the early 2000s.

The observations were made from merchant ships equipped with automatic instruments for measuring carbon dioxide in the water. Much of the data has come from a container ship carrying bananas from the West Indies to the UK, making a round-trip of the Atlantic every month. The MV Santa Maria, chartered by Geest, has generated more than 90,000 measurements of CO2 in the past few years.

The results show that the uptake by the North Atlantic halved between the mid-90s, when data was first gathered, and 2002-05:
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Such large changes are a tremendous surprise. We expected that the uptake would change only slowly because of the ocean’s great mass. We are cautious about attributing this exclusively to human-caused climate change because this uptake has never been measured before, so we have no baseline to compare our results to. Perhaps the ocean uptake is subject to natural ups and downs and it will recover again. - Dr Ute Schuster.
But the direction of the change was worrying Schuster adds, and there are some grounds for believing that a ‘saturation’ of the ocean sink would start to occur.
The speed and size of the change show that we cannot take for granted the ocean sink for the carbon dioxide. Perhaps this is partly a natural oscillation or perhaps it is a response to the recent rapid climate warming. In either case we now know that the sink can change quickly and we need to continue to monitor the ocean uptake. - Prof Andrew Watson
Map: About half the carbon dioxide emitted into the air from burning fossil fuels dissolves in the ocean. While this process reduces the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, it raises the acidity of ocean water (just like carbonated water, which is acidic). The map shows the total amount of human-made carbon dioxide in ocean water from the surface to the sea floor. Blue areas have low amounts, while yellow regions - particularly the North Atlantic - are rich in anthropogenic carbon dioxide. High amounts occur where currents carry the carbon-dioxide-rich surface water into the ocean depths. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory - Building a Climate Model.

Schuster, U., and A. J. Watson (2007), "A variable and decreasing sink for atmospheric CO2 in the North Atlantic", J. Geophys. Res., doi:10.1029/2006JC003941, in press, (accepted 24 July 2007)

Biopact: Southern Ocean carbon sink weakens - May 18, 2007

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Mozambique signs ethanol mega-deal: $510 million, 30,000 hectares of sugarcane

Mozambique's Agriculture Minister has confirmed his country has signed a huge $510 (€360) million deal with London-listed Central African Mining & Exploration Company Plc (CAMEC) to establish an energy plantation and to build a plant to produce 120 million litres of ethanol per year, as well as fertilizers. The plan was described earlier (here), but there was uncertainty over its scope.

Agriculture Minister Erasmo Muhate said the deal envisages raw material for the ethanol will be sugarcane planted over an area of 30,000 hectares in the southern province of Gaza.
I hope that with this project a city emerges, and there will be more benefits for local communities, while helping to cut Mozambique's high fuel costs. - Agriculture Minister Erasmo Muhate
Current high oil prices are catastrophic for oil importing, energy intensive developing countries, which can spend up to 15% of their GDP on importing fuels (compared to 2-3% for OECD countries). The ethanol produced in Mozambique will therefor bring major economic benefits. The fuel will be aimed at the domestic and regional markets, including the production of electricity from the cane residues (bagasse), to be used locally. The project, to be known as PROCANA, will create and estimated 7,000 jobs and generate an annual revenue of $40 (€28) million from 2010 onwards.

Joana Matidiana, spokesperson of the government of Gaza said the new employment opportunity for the people of Massingir and surrounding areas is "welcome, as it will contribute largely in the fight against poverty in Mozambique".
It is beyond any doubt that production of ethanol is one of best opportunities for the country. [...] We want to diversify our economy because we don't want [...] to depend on just four major products of export. We would like to contribute with some other products, such as alcohol. We can also contribute with the export of electricity, as the sugar mill could also generate electrical power and sell it to the domestic market. - spokesperson of Mozambique's Agrarian Promotion Centre.
With the emergence of a 'biofuels city', the Mozambican government hopes to cut down number of nationals who flee poverty and illegally emigrate to South Africa, so far believed to be over a 1,000 per day. CAMEC is expected to start construction of the integrated ethanol factory within the next year, with completion after three years.

Mozambique has only recently begun to understand that it is a 'biofuel superpower'. Its agro-ecological resources allow for the production of a wide range of efficient energy crops, including eucalyptus, grasses, starch crops like cassava, or sugarcane and jatropha. Analysts affiliated with the International Energy Agency estimate that the country can produce around 7 Exajoules of biofuels sustainably (map, click to enlarge), that is roughly 3.1 million barrels of oil equivalent per day (earlier post):
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The country currently consumes around 590,000 tonnes of oil products per year, the bulk being diesel (IEA data). This equates to around 0.18EJ. Achieving full energy independence is well within reach, with capacity to spare to supply international markets.

When it comes to the availability of land for energy crops, the country currently uses around 4.3 million hectares out of a total of 63.5 million hectares of potential arable land, or 6.6 per cent. Moreover, some 41 million hectares of poor quality land are available for the production of energy crops that require few inputs and are not suitable for food production (earlier post).

Recently Mozambican scientists and researchers told an International Symposium on Tropical Roots and Tubers that they are determined to develop varieties of cassava appropriate for the production of biofuels and to use the potential of a cassava industry as a tool for poverty reduction and rural development.

Meanwhile, a host of companies has already begun investing in Mozambique's biofuel potential. Canada's Energem recently acquired a jatropha biodiesel project based on an initial 1000 hectares; it will begin planting a further 5000 hectares, and will invest in an additional 60,000 hectares over the coming years (earlier post). Chinese, Italian, Portuguese and Brazilian companies are active in the sector as well (more here).

Most recently, the government of India and Mozambique discussed the potential of the biofuel sector to alleviate poverty in the country (previous post).

Map credit: Batidzirai, B., A.P.C. Faaij, E.M.W. Smeets.

Salvador Namburete: Mozambique's Experience on Bio-fuels [*.pdf], Minister of Energy of the Republic of Mozambique, presentation at the International Conference on Biofuels, Brussels, July 5-6, 2007.

Batidzirai, B., A.P.C. Faaij, E.M.W. Smeets (2006), "Biomass and bioenergy supply from Mozambique" [*abstract / *.pdf], Energy for Sustainable Development, X(1),
Pp. 54-81

Biopact: Pro-Cana to invest $510 million in integrated ethanol, power, sugar and fertilizer plant in Mozambique - September 04, 2007

Biopact: Mozambique to tap its large cassava ethanol potential as a tool for poverty reduction - October 12, 2007

Biopact: Journal "Energy for Sustainable Development" focuses on international bioenergy trade - November 05, 2006

Biopact: Highlights from the International Conference on Biofuels (Day 1) - July 05, 2007

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Uganda to get gelfuel and ethanol plant

A local investor in Uganda is planning to set up a plant for the production of gelfuels and ethanol, made from the waste materials of starch and sugar crops like cassava and sugarcane. Gelfuel is a clean-burning non-poisonous biobased fuel used for cooking in specially designed stoves. It is being used increasingly in the developing world and receives support from several major organisations, including the World Bank (earlier post).

Gelfuels have the great benefit of replacing inefficient wood fuels, which cause smoke pollution - the 'killer in the kitchen' estimated to lead to the death of around 1.5 million women and children each year in developing countries (see recent WHO figures).

The investor, who currently imports the biofuels from South African-based parent company Liquifier Pty Limited, hopes to set up the plant in east or western Uganda, by the end of June next year. According to the General Manager of Liquifier Uganda limited, Michael Musoke, the plan is to reduce carbon emissions through reduced deforestation and consequent charcoal burning. Gelfuels reduce emissions by up to 50% compared to wood fuels, which are, moreover, utilized in a very inefficient manner (open fires).

According to Musoke there is a lot of garden surplus in Uganda, which will be used as a feedstock. Since operations will depend mainly on the utilization of farm produce the project will support the farming sector by offering peasants more seeds to plant, better farm inputs and technical advice.

To produce gelfuel, denatured ethanol from sugar or starch crops is mixed with a biomass based thickening agent (cellulose) and water through a very simple technical process, resulting in a combustible gel. The gelfuel is thus renewable and can be locally produced in most countries in Africa. Jellified and/or solidified liquid fuels (kerosene and ethanol) have been in use since World War II, when they were used by soldiers for cooking:
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Liquifier Uganda limited became operational in Uganda two years ago but its products were only launched last month. Today, their products with a brand name Liquifier have found their way in most super markets in Kampala.

Among their products are synthetic oil, which burns in specially designed lamps (liquilamp) made of durable, hard plastic, which does not get destroyed when used for lighting. The Liquilamp goes for 26,000 shilling (€10.5/$14.8). A liter of oil gives around 60 hours of lighting. According to Musoke, the synthetic oil has been mixed with citronella, which is a mosquito repellant.

The other product, gelfuel, is used in dedicated stoves made of mild steel. A litre of gel sells for around for 3,600 shilling (€1.4/$2). According to Musoke, the gel burns for a period of three to four weeks for light cooking. A double plate stove goes for Shs55,000 (€22/$31) while a single plate stove goes for Shs 42,000 (€17/$24).

The gel is packed in consumer friendly quantities ranging from one litre to 200 litre drums, which caters for big institutions like schools, hotels, restaurants, and hospitals. For hotels that have long been using spirit for warming foodstuffs during the buffet method of serving, Musoke says the gel is a better option as it burns longer.

Musoke describes the products as smokeless, odourless, highly portable, leaves minimal residue after use and produces twice as much energy, compared to gas and paraffin.

Several initiatives like the World Bank's Millennium Gelfuel Initiative - a public-private partnership aimed at adapting and disseminating the cooking fuel for the African household sector - have yielded encouraging results. Consumer tests and marketing assessments conducted in Ethiopia, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Senegal, and Zimbabwe have overwhelmingly affirmed the appeal and potential commercial viability of the gelfuel.

More than 15 African and 2 Latin American countries have expressed interest in introducing the local production and marketing of the gelfuel, and concrete private sector driven Millennium Gelfuel investment projects are being prepared in Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Senegal, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

Other large commercialisation efforts are underway elsewhere. In Swaziland, for example, local people are 'extatic' about a gel fuel project, because not only does it deliver cheaper and cleaner energy than wood, its production also brings in jobs and gives a boost to the local economy. The company in question has made a €uro 4 million investment and will be sourcing cassava as a feedstock from small farmers. Women entrepreneurs will sell the gel packs on local markets. 'Everything comes together so nicely', as one woman in Swaziland said enthusiastically about the project.

Sunday Monitor (Kampala): Uganda to get a biofuel plant - October 21, 2007.

Biopact: WHO: indoor air pollution takes heavy toll on health in the developing world - May 01, 2007

Biopact: Ethanol gel fuel for cooking stoves revolutionizing African households - August 11, 2006

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Syngenta partners with QUT for sugarcane biomass conversion to biofuels - draws on molecular farming

Swiss biotech company Syngenta announced today that it has agreed a research partnership in Australia that focuses on the development of cost effective conversion of sugarcane bagasse to biofuels, including the delivery of plant-expressed enzymes. This means it takes a leap towards 'third generation' biofuel production. The research partners are the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), its technology transfer and commercialization company qutbluebox and the Australian agbiotech company Farmacule BioIndustries. A new Syngenta Centre for Sugarcane Biofuel Development will be established at QUT’s campus in Brisbane, Australia. The partnership will draw on, amongst other things, molecular farming techniques developed at QUT.

Molecular farming involves growing crops to produce proteins, bioplastics and other products rather than traditional food or fibre. In order for a plant to be used to produce specific molecules, a novel gene is inserted into its chromosomes. Regulatory code is inserted with that gene which tells the plant where to produce the desired protein within its leaves, roots or seeds (schematic, click to enlarge). Farmacule works through this process with the aid of its In-Plant Activation technology ('INPACT').

In the same way that sugarcane is harvested and refined to produce sugar, proteins manufactured inside the plants through molecular farming are later extracted after a crop is harvested and processed. Instead of producing a food product, the end result could be a plastic, biofuel, medicine or even an additive for the paper manufacturing process. There is a growing worldwide demand for high value proteins. Molecular farming provides a cost effective and scaleable production mechanism to meet this demand.

Syngenta and its partners will apply the technique to sugarcane which will be modified in such a way that the crop makes its own bioconversion enzymes as it grows. Earlier, scientists succeeded in doing this for maize (earlier post), thus opening the era of third generation biofuels (overview here). With first generation techniques, sugarcane ethanol made from the sucrose in the cane yields around 6000 liters per hectare. When the residue from this process, sugarcane bagasse, is efficiently converted into cellulosic ethanol, the same hectare of sugarcane is expected to yield around 12,000 liters of biofuel with a very strong energy balance.
This collaboration brings together dynamic new technologies as well as the expertise and infrastructure to tackle the challenge of producing cellulosic ethanol from cane. It has the potential to substantially decrease the cost of bioethanol production and significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. - Professor James Dale, Director at the Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities at Queensland University of Technology
The Queensland Government strongly supports this partnership and will invest a total of AU$ 5.1 million (€3.1/US$ 4.6 million) for the establishment of the new Syngenta centre and for the development of a related biocommodities pilot plant:
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We are very pleased to team up with such renowned experts on sugarcane as Queensland University of Technology and Farmacule. This broadens Syngenta’s biofuels strategy into new crops and speeds up our development of biomass conversion technologies to make cellulosic ethanol economically viable. - Robert Berendes, Head of Business Development at Syngenta.
Under the collaboration agreement Syngenta will have exclusive global marketing rights for the products, excluding for Australia, New Zealand and Pacific islands, where rights are held by the other project partners. Syngenta can also use the developed technologies in other crops. The Syngenta Centre for Sugarcane Biofuel Development will commence operations immediately.

QUT is a leading Australian university and is widely acknowledged for its research excellence in plant biotechnology. qutbluebox is the technology transfer and commercialization company for QUT. Farmacule BioIndustries is developing molecular farming technology to cost effectively mass produce high-value proteins, biofuels and bioplastics in plants for various industrial, therapeutic and diagnostic applications. All three partners are based in Brisbane.

Schematic: molecular farming technique. Courtesy: Farmacule BioIndustries.


Syngenta: Syngenta starts research partnership in Australia for sugarcane biomass conversion to biofuels - October 22, 2007.

Farmacule BioIndustries: Inpact and Molecular Farming.

Biopact: A quick look at 'fourth generation' biofuels - October 08, 2007

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

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Interview with Senegal's Minister of Biofuels and Renewable Energy

Extremely high oil and energy prices were one of the topics of Senegal's recent presidential elections. Whereas industrialised countries can cope with oil at $90 per barrel, for poor countries the situation is truly catastrophic. Some cash-strapped, oil importing governments are already forced to spend twice to thrice as much on importing energy than on health care. Senegal, which has no oil, coal or gas resources, can not cope with this scenario and has therefor vowed to invest in alternatives instead, especially bioenergy. It is hoped the sector will revive agriculture in the country, boost its energy security, and open poverty alleviation opportunities for its vast rural population.

In the following interview [*French], Christian Sina Diatta, professor of physics and Senegal's first Minister for Biofuels and Renewable Energy explains the reasons behind his country's transition towards alternative energy.

Senegal has made investments in renewables and biofuels a political priority. What's the current state of the sector?

In fact, for Senegal it is not a matter of giving priority to agriculture, fisheries or energy. The energy problem is a global one and affects all activities. All of use are confronted with the geopolitics of energy. High prices for oil, gas and coal are a worry everywhere. For this reason the transition towards alternative energy can be seen across the globe, in the United States, in the countries of the South, in tropical countries, Europe, Asia. On all continents we observe a rush towards alternatives with the sole aim to fight high prices and energy insecurity. Nowadays, there's even an international form of solidarity which authorises the installation of nuclear capacity for civilian use, to overcome some of these problems.

The option for us is to rely on our biomass resources, which allow man to produce energy with the assistance of nature. We are also looking at utilizing marine resources and solar energy, as well as other forms. Today, we no longer talk, we build: large projects have come online in many countries.

Senegal has no petroleum and coal resources whatsoever, and only a tiny bit of natural gas. This is why we have taken up reseach into renewables in a serious way. For us it is a matter of surviving high energy prices without reducing economic growth.

To achieve this, we have given a new direction to national energy, infrastructure and education policies. These three sectors must be integrated to ensure economic growth, so that our country's mothers can finally live well.

But concretely, what has the government done so far when it comes to renewables?

Our energy policy has been developed by the president of the Republic [Abdoulaye Wade, who was recently reelected] and by a dedicated committee. This has resulted in the creation of a Ministry of Biofuels and Renewable Energies. The establishment of such a dedicated ministry is unique in Africa, and perhaps in the world:
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Where are we? At the stage of structuring the new ministry. But important programmes are being implemented in not only in renewables but also in nuclear energy. Once the budget is voted, some of these projects will come online relatively quickly. One of those is biofuels. An army of investors has been knocking on our doors for this. In the biomass sector, we are working on a very important project dealing with organic waste treatment. The investments mainly come from foreign entrepreneurs and groups, so we are not dependent on state funds to implement them.

When will we see the first results of your actions?

No doubt in the weeks after the vote on the budget, because then a project for marine energy will be implemented. For biofuel projects, like those based on the cultivation of sunflower, you will have to wake a few months to see the first harvest after which we will produce the first batch of fuels.

But foreign enterprises have vowed to install biofuel plants in Senegal with the aim to export the fuels. The important thing is that we will have factories in our country [and not merely be exporters of raw materials].

Since a few years we have obtained serious success in the production of sugarcane in the North of Senegal, which is important too. We have already tested the conversion of sugarcane into ethanol - we must now scale up these efforts. Some want to establish an irrigated agricultural zone ranging from 60,000 to 600,000 hectares for the production of ethanol in our country.

We are looking at ways to import efficient [flex-fuel] vehicles. It's no news that ethanol has now become cheaper than gasoline. This will allow us to make significant progress on the level of the economy.

Ever since the idea of a bringing nuclear energy to Senegal was launched, people have asked critical questions. Some have said you are dreaming. Is it a dream?

First of all, it's an international reality. It is one for Senegal too, because we are more serious than anyone thinks. But I prefer not to delve into this too much at this time. People will see the results over the coming years.

But at a time when Senegal can't even manage its fossil fuels portfolio, why do you think we can manage nuclear, which is even more costly and complex?

In Senegal, we do not shy away from controversy. When we look at a particular energy technology, we calculate the costs per kWh. This calculus shows nuclear is less costly than other alternatives, with the exception of tidal power. In other words, if Senegal were to pool its resources and invest them in nuclear, we would be well off, because other factors make alternatives less secure options.

To say we can not manage nuclear is a false debate. When the investors think it can be done, they will bring in the know how and sell electricity to the Senelec [state-owned electricity company] and to other utilities that will enter the country to make money.

Several countries have expressed interest to build nuclear power plants in Senegal, and our electricity bill would not suffer because will will not invest a dime ourselves.

Our role is of a supportive nature: we must offer the infrastructures and the people to manage the sector.

Does Senegal have the human and financial resources needed to support a nuclear program, or would it have to rely on foreign funds?

The installation of a nuclear power plant depends on a chronogram which involves all the aspects you evoke here. We do not assume that we already have the necessary resources; these resources will be developed. This means, educating experts. But even then, this comes at a social and political cost, because the interests of those who want to work in the plant and those who are going to run it are not the same. To make a nuclear power plant working you need at least 200 qualified people.

In 1992 we created a third cycle [masters program] in 'Nuclear physics' and by the end of this month, we will have a doctoral program in the subject. We already have one PhD student, who is working for his degree in France. Another Senegalese citizen has been educated at the Institute of Mathematics and Physics of Porto-Novo (Benin). In short, we have more highly educated persons in our country than many think. We have nuclear energy engineers active in important international laboratories - Senegalese citizens. So we do not start from scratch.

Besides these resources, we have doctors in nuclear medicine and biologists who utilize nuclear sciences for their research. We have a long history of cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which makes we know the sector from within.

Hydropower, solar and wind energy - so many resources that remain untapped. When will we begin to use them?

We have had several programs with these technologies. We have trialed wind power, for example. But the average wind speeds in Senegal are relatively low, around 3 meters per second. This means we do not really have any wind resources that make large scale power generation feasible. Those who say we have offshore and near-shore wind resources, are forgetting that these winds are of a turbulent type and that they interact with the waves. The only region with potential is the lagoon area, where the winds have a consistent direction.

When it comes to solar power, we are in the process of experimenting with small and medium-scale technologies for use at the household level; we are looking into large scale production too.

To come back to wind turbines, there is one technology that could be more promising and that is submerged turbines that tap the energy from the movement of the tides. We are looking at a zone measuring 6 by 21 kilometers - there where the Rufisque river meets the ocean - to place such turbines at a depth of 20 meters. Provided this does not obstruct sea and river traffic, we could be looking at the energy equivalent of 3 small nuclear power plants. We are looking at this type of innovative programs, which are currently being developed in countries of the Nort, notably Norway, France, and the UK.

Which zones are targetted for the cultivation of jatropha [known locally as tabanani]?

No zone has been excluded. The entire country is suitable for jatropha, which is a hardy, robust crop. Foreign companies interested in the crop have come to Senegal with a hydrological map in their hands, and they show that we can even utilize drip irrigation. We believe there are opportunities in intercropping food crops with jatropha.

So in principle we haven't excluded any zone, except for regions with a relatively dense forest. Because it would be problematic if investors were to deforest land in order to plant jatropha merely with profits in mind.

Over the coming months, we will be making decisions within the framework of our feasibility studies. These will include the decision to designate the most promising zones measuring between 40,000 to 100,000 hectares as 'Zones d'Amenagement Concertées' (ZAC), which means the state will be the regulator and decide, together with the companies, how the land will be exploited and how the revenues and profits will have to be distributed to ensure that they benefit the Senegale people.

Interview conducted by D. Mane and E. Kaly, translated and abriged by Jonas Van Den Berg and Laurens Rademakers, cc, 2007.

Le Soleil (Dakar): Christian Sina Diatta, ministre des Biocarburants ET des Energies renouvelables : "Ceux qui pensent que le nucléaire est un rêve se trompent" - October 15, 2007.

Biopact: Senegal in possible $2 billion biofuel & oil refinery deal with Energy Allied International - September 25, 2007

Biopact: Biofuels and the presidential elections in Senegal - February 25, 2007

Biopact: Senegal in the spotlight: cooperation with Brazil, EU on bioenergy and migration - October 27, 2006

Biopact: Senegal's president explains the urgency of biofuels development in the South - November 02, 2006

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Putin encourages farmers to produce biofuels: Russia as a green energy giant

For those of us who thought energy exporters are not interested in biofuels or feel threatened by them, think again. The world's largest oil and gas exporter, Russia, has called on its farmers to join the global transition to biofuels.

During his televised conversation with Russians last Tuesday, Vladimir Putin told farmers they stand to benefit from capturing part of the emerging market for bioenergy. Few countries have as large a biofuels potential as Russia, he said, given its gigantic territory which stretches across 11 time zones.

With the advent of next-generation bioconversion technologies, which succeed in turning lignocellulosic biomass such as wood and grass into liquid and gaseous biofuels, Russia, with its vast taiga and tundra, has indeed emerged as one of the largest potential producers.

Recent projections by researchers working for the IEA's Bioenergy Task 40 show the Commonwealth of Independent States (former Soviet Union) together with the Baltics have a combined sustainable bioenergy capacity of maximum 199 Exajoules by 2050 (earlier post), or roughly 32.6 billion barrels of oil equivalent energy per year. This comes down to 89 million barrels per day, or roughly the same amount as the world's total current oil consumption.

Earlier this year, Russia's agriculture minister Alexej Gordejev estimated the country has 20 million hectares of low value land available immediately for bioenergy. A short term goal would be to produce a whopping 1 billion tons of biomass for exports, roughly the equivalent of 15 Ej of energy, or 2.4 billion barrels of oil equivalent per year (earlier post). That is around 6.7 million barrels of oil per day; Russia currently produces some 9.1 million bpd of fossil oil.

Putin said he sees no objections to Russians "who work in the countryside to take some of the market share of our petroleum and gas producers":
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Russia is a food exporter and will harvest around 78 million tons of grains this year. "This is a bit less than last year, but more than enough to allow for the exportation of around 10 million tons", Putin said.

For the production of bioenergy, Russia would use its vast forestry resources and land not suitable for the production of food crops, that is the vast taiga and tundra, where a range of productive herbaceous and woody biomass crops can be grown.

Russia's agriculture ministry has meanwhile begun cooperating on bioenergy with Germany's ministry for economic affairs within the 'German-Russian Agricultural Policy Dialogue'. Germany has a large know-how in the sector and is leading the development of new conversion technologies. But it has relatively few biomass resources compared to the 'green giant'.

AFP: Russie: Poutine encourage les paysans à se tourner vers les biocarburants - October 18, 2007.

Biopact: Green giant Russia to produce 1 billion tons of biomass for exports - February 03, 2007

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