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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creative Commons License

Friday, October 26, 2007

Scientists find agricultural soil erosion acts like a 'carbon sink'

A great number of human activities is being scrutinized to find out whether they contribute to climate change. From damming rivers to deforestation, the quest is on to study the impacts of these interactions with nature through the spectrum of global warming. Luckily not all of man's actions contribute to the problem. A major process that is bad enough as it is - soil erosion caused by agriculture - is not a source of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. On the contrary, it acts like a mild 'carbon sink'. This is the (surprising) finding of research published today in the journal Science. The study was carried out by an international team of researchers from the University of California Davis, the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, and the University of Exeter in the U.K.

The results of the research are important in the context of energy farming, because to calculate the carbon balance of bioenergy accurately one has to take into account all changes to the carbon cycle during the entire production chain, including potential indirect emissions arising from agriculture. Farming can both cause and combat soil erosion.

Carbon emissions are of great concern worldwide because together with other greenhouse gases they trap heat in the Earth's atmosphere and are a major cause of global climate change. But for a whole range of natural processes and human activities the research is ongoing.
There is still little known about how much carbon exactly is released, versus captured, by different processes in terrestrial ecosystems. We urgently need to quantify this if we are to develop sensible and cost-effective measures to combat climate change. - Johan Six, professor of agroecology at UC Davis
In their new study, the researchers found that erosion acts like a conveyor belt, excavating subsoil, passing it through surface soils and burying it in hollows downhill. During its journey, the soil absorbs carbon from plant material; when the soil is buried, so is the carbon.

Erosion, therefore, creates what can be described as a 'sink' of atmospheric carbon. The team improved previous estimates of the amount of carbon being sunk.
Some academics have argued that soil erosion causes considerable emissions of carbon, and others that erosion is actually offsetting fossil-fuel emissions. Now, our research clearly shows that neither of these is the case. - Kristof Van Oost, lead author, Catholic University of Leuven
By using caesium-137 and carbon inventory measurements from a large-scale survey, the scientists found consistent evidence for an erosion-induced sink of atmospheric carbon equivalent to approximately 26% of the carbon transported by erosion. Based on this relationship, they estimated a global carbon sink of 0.12 (range 0.06 to 0.27) petagrams of carbon per year resulting from erosion in the world's agricultural landscapes:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

In other words, erosion captures the equivalent of about 1.5 percent of annual fossil-fuel emissions worldwide. Earlier studies suggested a broad range of erosion's effects, from a sink equaling 10 percent of fossil-fuel emissions, to a source equaling 13 percent.

But even without major carbon impacts, the researchers said, erosion is a problem that must be addressed, because it has a detrimental effect on agricultural productivity and the surrounding environment.

Funding for the study was provided by the University of California's Kearney Foundation of Soil Science, the European Commission under the Marie Curie IntraEuropean Fellowship Programme, and the Fund for Scientific Research, Flanders.

: severe soil erosion brought about by animals overgrazing and vegetation being cleared in Kenya. Credit: Photo Researchers.

K. Van Oost, et al., "The Impact of Agricultural Soil Erosion on the Global Carbon Cycle", Science, 26 October 2007, Vol. 318. no. 5850, pp. 626 - 629, DOI: 10.1126/science.1145724.

UC Davis: Agricultural Soil Erosion Is Not Adding to Global Warming - October 25, 2007.

Article continues

Acciona Energy invests €140 million to build three biomass plants in Spain

The world's largest renewables firm, Acciona Energy, announces a major investment in three large and three smaller biomass plants to produce green electricity in Spain. The large facilities will be build in the region of Castilla y León: in Briviesca (Burgos - earlier post), Valencia de Don Juan (León) and Almazán (Soria) (map, click to enlarge). They will have a total capacity of 55 MW and see an investment of €140 (US$201.5) million. All of them will be participated in by the Ente Regional de la Energía (EREN) of Castilla y León. Another three 15MW biomass plants are being developed by Acciona elsewhere in the country.

Overall, the new power facilities will produce 440 million kWh, equivalent to the electricity consumption of 180,000 homes in Castilla y León and will create 300 jobs (direct and indirect) in the plants and the sector that supplies the biomass. The Briviesca plant could be operational by the second quarter of 2009 and the other two in the second half of 2010.

Acciona Energy already has three biomass plants in service in Spain, totalling 33 MW. The biggest (25 MW) is located in Sangüesa (Navarre). It opened in test mode in 2002 and produces 200 million kWh per year through the combustion of 160,000 tonnes of straw. The company's experience of operating a biomass plant over several years will be transferred to the new facilities.
Briviesca: the most advanced project
The Briviesca plant will have a capacity of 15 MW and will produce 120 million kWh a year through the combustion of 98,000 tonnes of raw material (80% of herbaceous waste -mainly straw- and 20% of wood waste). It represents an investment of €43 million and construction work will begin at the end of 2007 or in early 2008.

Feedstock: most of the raw material will come from the provinces of Burgos and Palencia (within a radius of 75 kilometres around the plant), and in particular from the Bureba area. The surrounding area will thus see an economic benefit from the exploitation of this waste organic material. Long-term supply contracts will be signed with farmers, cooperatives and other sector professionals, and the plant will create 25 direct and 75 indirect jobs.

Valencia de Don Juan: the biggest plant
The plant at Valencia de Don Juan (León) will have the greatest capacity (25 MW) of the three. It will consume 160,000 tonnes of raw material a year, with a similar distribution to that of Briviesca (80% herbaceous waste, 20% wood waste). It represents an investment of 55 million euros and will produce 200 million kilowatt-hours.

Feedstock: most of the raw material will come from the provinces of León, Palencia, Valladolid and Zamora within a radius of 100 kilometres from the plant. To the east, the radius for the supply of raw material extends almost as far as the supply zone for the Briviesca plant, meaning that almost all the northern part of the region - the provinces of Burgos, Palencia and León - can potentially supply the plant. The facility will create between 25 and 30 direct jobs and 100 indirect jobs.

Almazán: energy crops

The plant at Almazán (Soria) has been planned for a capacity of 15 MW and will have a greater variety of raw materials for combustion: on one hand forestry and agricultural waste, and energy crops on the other. The proportion will vary on the basis of supply trends and the evolution of the business. The plant represents an investment of €42 million and will produce 120 million kilowatts per year.

Feedstock: given the range of supplies and their different calorific values, 117,000 tonnes of raw material will be required a year in a supply radius around the plant of 75 kilometres. This covers the entire province of Soria and part of Burgos. The plant will create 25 direct and 70 indirect jobs.
In addition to these plants, Acciona Energy is developing three other biomass plants in Spain, all with a capacity of 15 MW. The projects are located in Miajadas (Cáceres), Alcázar de San Juan (Ciudad Real) and Cuenca:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

A sector that should take off
Within renewable technologies, biomass for electricity production has been the one that has developed least in recent years in Spain in comparison with initial expectations. While biomass accounted for 189 MW installed in Spain in 1998 (including biogas), by 2004 - six years later - only 344 MW had been put into service (an average of 25 MW per annum) despite the fact that the objective in the Renewables Promotion Plan approved in 1999 was 1,897 MW by 2010. Indeed, the most recent Renewables Plan (PER), approved in 2005, set a target of 2,039 MW by the end of the decade.

The fact that only 65 MW were installed in 2005 and 2006, to reach a total of 409 MW, has led to the Government approving an increase in premiums for electricity generation from biomass in Royal Decree 661/2007. It is hoped that this measure will help other projects of this type to get off the ground.

Despite its great potential in biomass, at present Castilla y León only has 9 MW in operation for the production of electricity from this technology, which contrasts with the strong position held by the region in other renewable energy sources such as wind power and hydro.

Taking renewables serious
Acciona Energy is the world leader in renewables, a sector in which it is present in eight different technologies. In wind power the company has implemented 4,912 MW in 180 windparks in 10 countries, of which 3,603 MW belong to the company. It also produces wind turbines using proprietary technology. It has three biomass plants and 19 small hydro power stations. In solar power it has installed the biggest thermoelectric plant (64 MW) built in the last 16 years; it is the leader in Spain in photovoltaic (38 MW) and thermal (28 MW) and has designed the first "zero emissions" building in the country.

Morerover, Acciona produces homologated quality biodiesel from vegetable oils and bioethanol from wine surplus alcohol. It belongs to the ACCIONA Group, one of the main national and international corporations in the development and management of infrastructures, services and renewable energy sources, with a workforce of over 38,000 worldwide. The company is listed on the selective IBEX-35 (ANA.MC) index with a capitalisation of 13 billion euros.

Acciona: Acciona Energy develops three biomass plants in Castilla y León (Spain) - October 24, 2007.

Biopact: Acciona to build 15MW biomass power plant in Castilla y León - April 11, 2007

Article continues

Avantium tests new generation of high energy density biofuels: 'Furanics'

Royal Dutch Shell spin-off Avantium has announced results of the first engine tests of a next generation of biofuels it calls 'Furanics'. Avantium targets the development of fuels with superior economics and properties in comparison to current biofuels. The fuels which are being developed can be derived from carbohydrates (sugars). Moreover, the production technique can also be used to make starting chemicals for bio-based plastics, and bulk and specialty chemicals.

The recently patented biofuels are based on 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) derivatives, in particular 5-alkoxymethylfurfural ethers manufactured by reacting a glucose-containing starting material with an alcohol in the presence of a catalytic or sub-stoichiometric amount of acid catalyst. The catalysts can be heterogeneous or homogenous and may be employed in a continuous flow fixed bed or catalytic distillation reactor. The resulting ethers can be used as a fuel and as starting material for the synthesis of monomers for polymerisation reactions.

The conversion of sugars or sugar (hexoses) containing biomass into more economically useful compounds is of increasing interest. Current fuel activities are mainly directed towards ethanol from sugar/glucose. Typically, sucrose and glucose are fermented into ethanol. One glucose molecule is converted into two molecules of ethanol and two molecules of CO2. This conversion has drawbacks especially in view of atom economy, the low energy density of ethanol (7.7 kWh/kg or 6.1 kWh/L) and its relative low boiling point (78,4 degrees Celsius).

Another application area of interest of both the scientific and industrial community involves the conversion of sugars such as fructose into hydroxymethyl furfural (HMF) in the presence of an acid catalyst. HMF is then obtained as a potential starting material for obtaining bio-based monomer such as furandicarboxylic acid which can be used for bioplastics (polyethylene terephthalate (PET) type polyesters). However, when under these conditions sucrose or glucose was used as a feed, no conversion to HMF is observed, which is a distinct disadvantage given the low price and abundant availability of sucrose and glucose. Only in the presence of ionic liquids or in a sub- and supercritical mixture of acetone and water reasonable HMF yields from starting materials other than fructose can be obtained.

Fructose as feed is undesirable given its high price compared to glucose and/or sucrose. Therefore, so far, no process for the synthesis of HMF has been developed on an industrial scale.

In short, current methods for the synthesis of HMF mostly start from fructose and typically do not give a high yield, partly attributable to the instability of HMF under the acidic reaction conditions. In most acid-catalysed water-based reactions, the further reaction to levulinic acid and humins has been reported, making this a less attractive alternative.

Avantium has overcome these disadvantages. Its researchers have found that the conversion of glucose-containing starting material that may be derived from biomass in the presence of a catalytic or sub-stoichiometric amount of acid in the presence of an alcohol with or without the presence of one or more additional diluents leads to the formation of the corresponding HMF-ether in good yield and selectivity.

Avantium's HMF chemistry prevents the occurrence of the onward and undesired reaction towards levulinic acid and humins, thus leading to an efficient procedure for the conversion of glucose-containing material into HMF derivatives.

High energy density
The energy density of ethoxymethylfurfural (EMF, a Furanics example) is 8.7 kWh/L. This is as good as regular gasoline (8.8 kWh/L), nearly as good diesel (9.7 kWh/L) and significantly higher than ethanol (6.1 kWh/L). This means that with a full tank of Furanics you can drive almost as far as as with a full tank of traditional fuels. The high energy density of EMF, the fact that these HMF derivatives can now be obtained in high yields, in one step, from very cheap hexose or hexose containing starting materials such as sucrose and glucose, and as these ethers are, in contrast to HMF, liquids at room temperature, make these very interesting biofuels:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The acid catalyst in the production method can be selected from amongst organic acids, inorganic acids, salts, Lewis acids, ion exchange resins and zeolites or combinations and/or mixtures thereof.

The glucose-containing feedstock can be obtained from a wide variety of biomass sources. In general any feed with a sufficient high glucose content can be used. It is preferred that the glucose-containing starting material is selected from the group of starch, amylose, galactose, cellulose, hemi-cellulose, glucose-containing disaccharides such as sucrose, maltose, cellobiose, lactose, preferably glucose-containing disaccharides, more preferably sucrose or glucose.

Engine tests
The company successfully completed engine tests to demonstrate the potential of these novel biofuels. The tests were carried out by Intertek, in Geleen, The Netherlands, an independent test center. Using a Citroën Berlingo with a regular diesel engine, Avantium tested a wide range of blends of Furanics with regular diesel. The test yielded positive results for all blends tested. The engine ran smoothly for several hours. Exhaust analysis uncovered a significant reduction of soot (fine particulates). On top of this, Furanics do not contain any sulphur, a significant environmental benefit compared to oil-based fuels.
The significant reduction of soot in the car exhaust is encouraging, as soot emmissions are considered a major disadvantage of using diesel today, because of its adverse environmental and health effects. We are developing a next generation biofuel that has superior fuel properties and process economics compared to existing biofuels. The production process of Furanics has an excellent fit with existing chemical process technology and infrastructure. Ultimately our ambition is to develop biofuels that are competitive with fossil based fuels. - Tom van Aken, Chief Executive Officer of Avantium
The company plans to undertake an additional, comprehensive engine tests in 2008 to study engine performance and long terms effects of Furanics.

Avantium also announced the filing of over a dozen patent applications on the production and use of Furanics as part of the company's strategy to build an extensive patent portfolio for its biofuels program. In September 2007, the first two key patents were published, that claim amongst others the use of furanics as a biofuel and its production routes from sugars.

The company recently appointed Dr. Ed de Jong, a well-known and highly respected biomass expert. Previously, he worked at Wageningen University & Research Centre.

Given that Avantium's Furanics are products derived from carbohydrates such as sugars, the company stands to benefit from the efficiencies of an existing market for these feedstocks. Carbohydrates are globally the most abundantly available biomass feedstock.

Avantium is a leading technology company in the area of advanced high-throughput R&D operating in the energy, chemicals and pharmaceutical industries. The company develops products and processes in the area of biofuels, bio-based chemicals and novel crystal forms of existing drugs by applying its proprietary, high-throughput R&D technology. Avantium has demonstrated the potential of this technology by providing R&D services and tools to more than 70 companies worldwide, including many of the world's largest energy, chemicals and pharmaceutical companies. Avantium has approximately 100 employees; its offices and head quarters are based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Image: sucrose, a disaccharide consisting of two monosaccharides (glucose and fructose), is one of the carbohydrates that can be converted into the high energy density Furanics.


Avantium: Avantium steps ahead with its Biofuels program - Engine test demonstrates potential of "Furanics" - October 22, 2007.

Avantium: Avantium intends to list on Euronext Amsterdam - Positive results with next generation biofuels trigger IPO plans - October 22, 2007

European Patent EP 1834950: Method for the synthesis of 5-alkoxymethylfurfural ethers and their use [*.pdf] - September 19, 2007.

European Patent EP1834951: Method for the synthesis of organic acid esters of 5-hydroxymethylfurfural and their use [*.pdf] - September 19, 2007.

Article continues

World first: fair trade founders team up with Brazilian farmers to sell coffee husk pellets to Dutch energy company

In a unique project, the founding fathers of fair trade products have matched certified coffee farmers in Brazil to the largest energy company in the Netherlands. Development organisation Solidaridad, which launched the world's first officially certified fair trade product back in 1988 ('Max Havelaar' coffee), and energy company Essent are introducing a new form of biomass for use in power stations, using coffee husks as the raw material - a world first. The Doen Foundation is supporting the project because it is making a highly positive contribution to solving the climate problem and because it helps fair trade coffee farmers boost their incomes further, in a sustainable way. The cooperative model could potentially be replicated throughout the world for a range of crop residues (overview of the resource base), helping poor farmers in the South becoming biomass exporters.

The coffee husks are a residual product from Brazilian coffee cultivation. They contain cellulose and have a heating value similar to that of wood. The husks have a bad reputation and damage local coffee markets because they are often co-roasted with coffee beans for the production of low value instant coffee of bad quality.

The husks contain potassium which is why a fraction is used as an organic ferilizer on the coffee plantations. But around two thirds of the large residue stream is left to rot, with damaging effects on local water resources. The rotting husks also generate copious amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Solidaridad, knowing the coffee sector well, therefor decided to look at the resource as a green energy source. As a solid biofuel, the coffee husks have the right chemical properties which makes them suitable for replacing coal and other fossil fuels to produce electricity in power plants. Essent decided to test the fuel and is now effectively using the husks to generate green electricity - a world first. Early calculations of output show that with this innovation it will be possible to achieve a CO2 reduction of at least 90 per cent, compared to an average Dutch power station.

The fair trade coffee companies that supply the raw material - all certified in accordance with the standards of Utz Certified and/or the Rainforest Alliance - work with respect for people and the environment. The coffee harvest in Brazil produces the coffee husks that are compressed into a form known as pellets. At the end of this year, the entire production (around 5,000 tonnes) from this first year, will be shipped to the Netherlands and used to generate green electricity at Essent's Amer power station in Geertruidenberg - a plant with a combined electricity generating capacity of 1,245 megawatt and a heat generating capacity of 600 megawatt. If the whole process is successful, there will be a second load of 20,000 tonnes. In Brazil there is a potential of 150,000 to 200,000 tonnes of coffee husk pellets available on an annual basis. This is sufficient to provide more than 100,000 households with green electricity for a year:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The coffee husk is not edible. There is no competition with the food or animal feed chains. It is a residual product with a value of about five per cent of the main product. The new market is not expected to cause any expansion of this cultivation and there will not be any additional pressure on nature and small farmers.

The coffee farmers involved are all certified in accordance with the standards of Utz Certified and/or Rainforest Alliance. They now have an extra income thanks to the sale of coffee husks. The cooperation between Essent and Solidaridad is also prompted by the desire to link the existing quality systems of the two parties: Essent Green Gold Label and Solidaridad's Utz Certified label. This type of 'certification cascading' could become a model for future biomass trade.
The Doen Foundation co-finances this project because it offers a concrete example of how we can tackle climate change. Consumers and energy producers can now choose for real 'green electricity'. This product - biomass pellets from coffee husks - goes beyond sustainability criteria, it includes a fair price for farmers who produce it. Essent shows the use of biomass can be approached in a different way. Now it's the government's turn to create the correct financial framework and incentives to promote this kind of initiatives. - Jeffrey Prins, program manager Sustainable Development, Doen Foundation
Essent is the biggest producer of Green Electricity in The Netherlands and its aim is to utilise as much biomass as possible for the sustainable production of energy, though at the same time insisting on important conditions: production of the biomass (in liquid or solid form) must not have any negative consequences for the food and animal feed chains, biodiversity or economy of the countries from which the biomass comes. Essent emphasised and endorsed this view again during the Agreement of Schokland (30 June 2007, Schokland, The Netherlands). Essent is always looking for new, natural waste residues that can be used as biomass and that do not compete with the food or animal feed chains with which to produce Green Electricity at its power station in Geertruidenberg. The new hybrid power station which is about to be built will also be equipped for this.

With an annual turnover in 2006 of 6.4 billion euros, Essent is The Netherlands' biggest energy company. Essent supplies electricity, gas and heating to domestic and business customers. Essent operates throughout the entire energy chain: from the production of energy up to and including delivery to end users. The concern regards The Netherlands as its home market, but has now also built up a considerable market position in Germany and is increasingly active in Belgium. The environmental branch of the concern processes waste into energy and residual currents. Essent employs about 10,000 people.

Development organisation Solidaridad is the initiative behind, among other enterprises, Max Havelaar, Utz Certified and Café Oké and an authority on development problems and the potency of fair trade with third world countries. Solidaridad launched the first ever certified fair trade product in 1988. The organisation is continually starting up new initiatives which contribute to the fight against poverty in developing countries. Close collaboration with large and small companies is of crucial importance in this. As well as in the energy and coffee sectors, Solidaridad also operates in the textiles industry (Kuyichi, MADE-BY), in fruit (Oké fruit) and soya (including in collaboration with Campina).

The Doen Foundation is the foundation of the Good Causes Lotteries. DOEN is committed to an inhabitable world in which everyone can participate. It finances initiatives in the fields of Sustainable Development, Culture, Well-being and Social Cohesion. This project makes a positive contribution to solving the climate problem. The product meets the strictest requirements for sustainability of biomass, which go beyond merely saving CO2. Moreover, the public/private collaboration between Solidaridad and energy supplier Essent is a good example to others in the market.

Essent: World scoop: Green electricity from coffee husks - Essent and Solidaridad launch fair biomass with great reduction in CO2 emissions - July 10, 2007.

Solidaridad: fair biomass projecht page.

Doen Stichting: Wereldprimeur: Groene stroom uit koffieschillen - July 10, 2007.

Biopact: Crop residues: how much biomass energy is out there? - July 14, 2006

Article continues

US ARS and Washington University team up to research biohydrogen, microbial fuel cells

Scientists from the U.S. Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and Washington University (WU) are collaborating on a three-year research project into biohydrogen and microbial fuel cells. They are screening electrochemically active and anaerobic bacteria that can convert sugars and organic waste directly into electricity or into hydrogen.

The initiative is aimed at making microbial fuel cells more efficient and practical. A bio-battery or microbial fuel cell (MFC) converts chemical energy, available in an organic substrate, directly into electricity. To achieve this, bacteria are used as a catalyst to convert substrate into electrons. The micro-organisms can convert a broad variety of organic compounds into CO2, water and energy. They use the produced energy to grow and to maintain their own metabolism. However, by using a MFC we can harvest a part of this microbial energy in the form of electricity.

Recent breakthroughs have made MFCs an exciting new research field, with many potential applications - from powering gadgets to space habitats to remote rural communities in the developing world (previous post, which delves deeper into MFC development). But the efficieny of these fuel cells can still be increased further.

According to Mike Cotta, who leads the ARS Fermentation Biotechnology Research Unit, Peoria, Ill., the project with WU arose from a mutual interest in developing sustainable methods of producing energy that could diminish U.S. reliance on crude oil. Cotta's team specializes in using bacteria, yeasts or other microorganisms inside bioreactors to do work, such as ferment grain sugars into fuel ethanol. At WU in St. Louis, Mo., assistant professor Lars Angenent is investigating MFCs systems that use mixtures of bacteria to treat organic wastewater and catalyze the release of electrons and protons, which then can be used to produce electricity or hydrogen fuel.

In September 2006, the researchers pooled their labs' resources and expertise to undertake a three-year cooperative project. One resource they'll share is the ARS Peoria-based Microbial Culture Collection, which houses about 87,000 accessions of freeze-dried microbes from around the world:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Using the collection's database information, the team is searching for microbes that "eat" biomass sugars (e.g., glucose and xylose from corn stover) and are electrochemically active. That means they can transfer electrons from fuel cell sugars without help from costly chemicals called mediators. The electrons, after traveling a circuit, combine with protons in a cathode chamber, forming hydrogen, which can be burned or converted into electricity.

Bacteroides, commonly found in the human intestine, and Shewanella are among bacteria species used to start the process.

Hydrogen's appeal stems from its natural abundance and capacity to store and release energy in a nonpolluting manner. The challenge is commercially producing it from sources other than fossil fuels, which are in limited supply and nonrenewable. About 95 percent of U.S. hydrogen comes from petroleum or natural gas via a process called steam reforming.

Biobased membranes for fuel cells
In another development, a group of ARS scientists has found a way to replace the petroleum used in today's hydrogen fuel cell membranes with naturally occurring products.

Justin Barone and colleagues in ARS' Environmental Management and Byproduct Utilization Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., have conducted preliminary studies which suggest the possibility of replacing the conventional petroleum-based main membrane in hydrogen fuel cells with biological products.

Hydrogen fuel cells have received a lot of attention as a possible energy conversion mechanism. The coming of what's being called a renewable "hydrogen economy" is being touted as a feasible alternative to current economic reliance on nonrenewable fossil fuels.

In the hydrogen economy, hydrogen fuel cells would replace internal combustion engines in vehicles, and hydrogen would replace gasoline. However, current hydrogen fuel cell technology is heavily dependent on petroleum to make both the fuel cells and the hydrogen fuel.

In biology, membranes surrounding cells routinely conduct hydrogen ions through the cell walls. Borrowing from this idea, Barone and his colleagues have focused their research on bio-based, nonpetroleum membranes made from naturally occurring products to conduct the hydrogen ions moving in and out of fuel cells.

Top picture: Shewanella bacterium. Credit: Hamilton College Microscopy & Imaging Facility.

Picture of the bio-based fuel cell membrane, credit: ARS.

US ARS Fermentation Biotechnology Research: Research Project: Biological Hydrogen Production from Biomass Sugars by Electrochemically-Assisted Hydrogen Production in Microbial Fuel Cells, Project Number: 3620-41000-118-06, Start Date: Sep 05, 2006 - End Date: Jun 30, 2009.

ARS: Using Natural-Occurring Products To Build Hydrogen Fuel Cells - March 8, 2006.

Biopact: Microbial fuel cell development speeds up: from biopower in space to the developing world - September 30, 2007

Article continues