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    The government of India's Harayana state has decided to promote biomass power projects based on gasification in a move to help rural communities replace costly diesel and furnace oil. The news was announced during a meeting of the Haryana Renewable Energy Development Agency (HAREDA). Six pilot plants have demonstrated the efficiency and practicability of small-scale biomass gasification. Capital subsidies will now be made available to similar projects at the rate of Rs 2.5 lakh (€4400) per 100 KW for electrical applications and Rs 2 lakh (€3500) per 300 KW for thermal applications. New Kerala - November 1, 2007.

    A British development NGO, Oxfam, says the EU's biofuels policy could be "disastrous" for poor people if it means agro-industrial production models. However, it also recognizes that "biofuels may offer the potential to reduce poverty by increasing jobs and markets for small farmers, and by providing cheap renewable energy for local use". Oxfam - November 1, 2007.

    Massey University and Palmerston North City Council in New Zealand have found a way to increase the production of biogas to help drive the council's cogeneration engine to produce steam and electricity by co-digesting whey, an unwanted byproduct from milk processing, with sludge from a wastewater treatment plant. A full scale trial is under way at the Totara Road Treatment Plant to develop a cheap method of disposing of whey, increase gas production from the city's digesters and ultimately earn more carbon credits. Manawatu Standard - October 30, 2007.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Researchers: bureaucracy threatens development of sustainable biopesticides

The bioenergy revolution is set to lead to the greatest transformation of global agriculture in decades. This not only presents new risks and challenges, but also opportunities to 'leapfrog' into more sustainable forms of agriculture from the very start.

One of the areas in which significant progress has been made towards more environmentally friendly agriculture is in the development of integrated pest management by means of biopesticides - green pest control methods using natural predators such as insects, fungi and bacteria. But researchers at a University of Warwick conference warned yesterday that one of the leading developers - the United Kingdom - could throw away a lead in biopesticides because of outmoded styles of regulation.

Biopesticides are the subject of a conference for scientists and industry experts being held at the University of Warwick this week, titled ‘Biopesticides, the Regulatory Challenge’.

Professor Wyn Grant has led a three-year project with researchers at Warwick HRI looking at biological alternatives to chemical pesticides. He said globally the biopesticides market is worth €158 million. The European market has doubled in size in recent years, but the EU can only meet 45 percent of the demand for biopesticides.

As consumers ask for greener alternatives, and as organo-phosphates are phased out, older pesticide licences are not being renewed. This is creating a growing market for green alternatives such as biopesticides. Sadly, says Grant, even though the UK is one of Europe’s main players in this market, it could easily loose its first-mover advantage if red-tape slows the sector down.
Biopesticides are much safer for humans and much more sustainable in the long-term. However, our current regulatory system is set up for synthetic pesticides – it costs up to €2.5m per product. This is a particular problem because biopesticides are so targeted – it means their market is much smaller than the old-style kill-everything pesticides. - Professor Wyn Grant
The researchers’ warning follows a European Parliament debate last week (24 October 2007) which rejected proposals to improve the regulation of biopesticides by creating regional eco-zones:
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Professor Grant added that Britain's Pesticide Safety Directorate has been an innovative regulator by setting up a special Biopesticides Scheme, but that these efforts could be undermined by not getting the right arrangements in place across the EU.

According to Grant, the European Parliament voted on new regulations on pesticides and missed an opportunity to promote safer alternatives to chemical products.
Biopesticide controls are often produced by small firms and the lack of an internal market, because of the need to secure national regulatory approval in each member state, hampers their ability to get safer products to the market. - Professor Wyn Grant
The conference is sponsored by the Rural Economy and Land Use Programme (RELU) and AgraQuest, a biotechnology company that focuses on discovering, developing, manufacturing and marketing effective, safe and environmentally friendly natural pest management products.

Picture: Transverse ladybird feeding on citrus aphids. Courtesy: Dan Papacek, Bugs for Bugs.


University of Warwick: Bureaucracy threatens farmers’ green revolution - October 31, 2007.

University of Warwick: 'Biological Alternatives to Chemical Pesticide Inputs in the Food Chain: an Assessment of Environmental and Regulatory Sustainability' - Project webpage.

European Parliament: Bringing pesticides legislation into the 21st century - October 18, 2007.

Biological Alternatives to Chemical Pesticide Inputs in the Food Chain: an Assessment of Environmental and Regulatory Sustainability': Design Principles for a Better Regulatory System for Biopesticides [*.doc], s.d.

Biological Alternatives to Chemical Pesticide Inputs in the Food Chain: an Assessment of Environmental and Regulatory Sustainability':Benefits and Costs of Biopesticides in Terms of their Contribution to Sustainability [*.doc], s.d. [2007].

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Genes identified to protect brassicas from damaging disease

Scientists have identified a new way to breed brassicas, which include oilseed rape, mustard seed (biofuel crops), broccoli and cabbage, resistant to a damaging virus. Their discovery has characterised a form of resistance that appears to be durable, broad-spectrum and unlikely to be overcome by the virus over time. Turnip mosaic virus (TuMV) is an economically devastating virus that infects a wide range of cultivated plants, but especially brassicas.

In research published in the Journal of General Virology, scientists at Warwick HRI and collaborators have identified genes that confer resistance to the virus and, crucially, as multiple genes are involved, provide resistance that the virus appears not to have been able to evolve to overcome.

The research, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and others, could have important broader implications for plant breeders and farmers as TuMV is a member of the Potyvirus family - the biggest family of viruses that attack plants - and an important model for understanding other viruses.

The Warwick HRI scientists have examined a number of types of genes that determine plant responses to virus attack. One response is for the plant to kill off individual cells if they become infected, thereby restricting the viral infection to a very localised area of the plant. Another response is to restrict virus movement within the plant and stop its spread from leaf to leaf. The researchers have identified a number of genes that appear to not allow any replication of the virus in plants when it is introduced into the plant.
Turnip mosaic virus can cause big economic losses for farmers. We have identified multiple genes that give some varieties of brassica resistance to the virus. By breeding these genes into commercial varieties of the crop, using conventional techniques, breeders can protect them from attack. But most importantly, we have identified broad-spectrum resistance provided by a number of genes. This means we potentially have the means to develop brassicas, such as broccoli, that will be robust enough to prevent the virus mutating to overcome the resistance. -
Dr John Walsh, research group leader
The Brassica genus of plants is remarkable for containing more important agricultural and horticultural crops than any other genus. It includes over 30 wild species and hybrids, and numerous additional cultivars and hybrids of cultivated origin. Most are annuals or biennials, but some are small shrubs. Several brassicas, like Brassica napus (rapeseed, canola) and different species of mustard seed (Brassica nigra, Brassica juncea and Brassica hirta/Sinapis alba) are biofuel crops used for the production of biodiesel.
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Professor Simon Bright, Director of Warwick HRI, commented said this research demonstrates the importance of centres such as Warwick HRI in linking fundamental bioscience to developments that benefit growers and consumers:
In the three years since we transferred to become part of the University of Warwick, Warwick HRI has built on its core strengths in horticulture and is now at the forefront of efforts, such as the BBSRC Crop Science Initiative, to turn excellent plant science in to real benefits for crop production. - Simon Bright, Director of Warwick HRI
Dr Walsh's team has recently been awarded more funding by BBSRC under its Crop Science Initiative to take this research further.

Rachel L. Rusholme, Erin E. Higgins, John A. Walsh and Derek J. Lydiate, "Genetic control of broad-spectrum resistance to turnip mosaic virus in Brassica rapa (Chinese cabbage)", J Gen Virol 88 (2007), 3177-3186; DOI 10.1099/vir.0.83194-0

AlphaGalileo: Genes identified to protect brassicas from damaging disease - November 1, 2007.

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Total chief warns for 'Peak Oil'

The world’s capacity to produce oil will fall well short of official forecasts, the chief executive of oil major Total warned. In an unusually stark prediction for the head of one of the world’s biggest oil companies, Christophe de Margerie, CEO of the French group, said it would be difficult to reach even 100 million barrels a day.

The International Energy Agency in its “business as usual” projections, has said oil supply will reach 116 million barrels a day (m/bpd) by 2030, up from about 85m/bpd today. The US government has a similar forecast of 118m/bpd in 2030.

de Margerie, however, said while forecasts could always change:
100m barrels [per day]...is now in my view an optimistic case. It is not my view: it is the industry view, or the view of those who like to speak clearly, honestly, and not... just try to please people.
In a related development, IEA chief economist Fatih Birol said that the agency will review its use of resource estimates from the United States Geological Survey, in a move that seems certain to prompt a major downward revision of its long term oil production forecast.

The consequences for the emerging biofuels industry are more than clear; major projections about its future share in the world's liquid fuels supply will have to be revised upwards. Developing countries will have to prepare themselves for the end of cheap oil much faster than expected - $90 per barrel is already having catastrophic effects on their economies today - and radically rethink their development trajectories and strategies [entry ends here].
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Study: excessive nitrogen fertilizer depletes soil organic carbon - farmers can do with less, save money

The common practice of adding nitrogen fertilizer is believed to benefit the soil by building organic carbon, but four University of Illinois soil scientists dispute this classic view based on analyses of soil samples from the Morrow Plots - America's oldest experimental field - that date back to before the current practice began.

The consequences of their findings are that (corn) farmers can reduce their fertilizer inputs, obtain higher yields by doing so over the longer term, and save money. In the case of biofuel production, this means the energy balance of the fuel would increase, as less nitrogen fertilizers are used. Nitrogen fertilizer production is an energy intensive process and accounts for much of the loss in the net energy of biofuels.

The research, also drawing upon data from other long-term trials throughout the world, was conducted by soil scientists Saeed Khan, Richard Mulvaney, Tim Ellsworth, and Charlie Boast. Their paper "The Myth of Nitrogen Fertilization for Soil Carbon Sequestration" is published in the November/December 2007 issue of the Journal of Environmental Quality.
It is truly fortunate that researchers over the past 100 years have been diligent in collecting and storing samples from the University of Illinois Morrow Plots in order to check how management practices have affected soil properties. We were intrigued that corn growth and yields had been about 20 percent lower during the past 50 years for the north (continuous corn) than for the south (corn-oats-hay) end of the Morrow Plots, despite considerably greater inputs of fertilizer nitrogen and residues. - Saeed Khan, soil scientists, University of Illinois
To understand why yields were lower for plots that received the most nitrogen, Khan and his colleagues analyzed samples for organic carbon in the soil to identify changes that have occurred since the onset of synthetic nitrogen fertilization in 1955. What they learned is that after five decades of massive inputs of residue carbon ranging from 90 to 124 tons per acre, all of the residue carbon had disappeared, and there had been a net decrease in soil organic carbon that averaged 4.9 tons per acre. Regardless of the crop rotation, the decline became much greater with the higher nitrogen rate (graph, click to enlarge - legend, see below):
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Mulvaney says that the findings have troubling implications for corn production due to the widespread use of yield-based nitrogen recommendations since the 1970s. The one- size-fits-all approach was intended to minimize the risk of nitrogen deficiency as insurance for high yields. Unfortunately, the usual result is over-fertilization because of the assumption that the fertilizer supplies more nitrogen than the soil. The opposite is true in most cases, and especially for the highly productive soils of the Corn Belt that receive the highest nitrogen rates.

The rates have been progressively inflated over the years by yield increases from agricultural advances such as better varieties and higher populations.

Their findings for the Morrow Plots are confirmed in published literature from field studies that included initial soil organic carbon data. In numerous publications spanning more than 100 years and a wide variety of cropping and tillage practices, the scientists found consistent evidence of an organic carbon decline for fertilized soils throughout the world and including much of the Corn Belt besides Illinois.
We don't question the importance of nitrogen fertilizers for crop production. But, excessive application rates cut profits and are bad for soils and the environment. The loss of soil carbon has many adverse consequences for productivity, one of which is to decrease water storage. There are also adverse implications for air and water quality, since carbon dioxide will be released into the air, while excessive nitrogen contributes to the nitrate pollution problem. - Tim Ellsworth, soil scientist, University of Illinois
Because soils differ in their capacities to supply nitrogen, Khan and his colleagues stress the need for soil testing, ideally on a site-specific basis, as a prerequisite to soil-based nitrogen management that optimizes fertilizer rates.

In comparing USDA data for Iowa and Illinois, the two states that rank highest in corn production, they found that from 1994 to 2001, annual grain yields in Iowa averaged 1.7 billion bushels with 740 thousand tons of nitrogen, as compared to an average of 1.5 billion bushels produced in Illinois with 847 thousand tons of nitrogen. The difference, Khan said, translates into lower fertilizer efficiency that cost Illinois farmers 68 million dollars per year.

Funding for this research was provided in part through a Hatch project, with additional support generated by the 15N Analysis Service.

Graph: A century of changes in organic C concentrations for the plow layer in Morrow Plots cropped to continuous corn [C-C], a corn–oats (1876–1966) or corn–soybean (since 1967) rotation [C-O(S)], or a corn–oats–alfalfa hay rotation [C-O-H]. Open circles represent NB subplots with fertilizer and aboveground residue inputs beginning in 1955. Solid circles represent SA subplots with manure, limestone, and rock phosphate inputs before 1967, subsequently replaced by high NPK fertilization and aboveground residue return. Shaded boxes indicate the introduction of NPK fertilization. Triplicate analyses for organic C were performed by the method of Mebius (1960). Using the Tukey-Kramer statistic at {alpha} = 0.05, significant differences must exceed 2.5 g kg–1 within a time series and 2.9 g kg–1 for comparison of individual values within a chart.

S. A. Khan, R. L. Mulvaney, T. R. Ellsworth and C. W. Boast, "The Myth of Nitrogen Fertilization for Soil Carbon Sequestration", J Environ Qual, 36:1821-1832 (2007), Published online 24 October 2007 DOI: 10.2134/jeq2007.0099

Eurekalert: Study reveals that nitrogen fertilizers deplete soil organic carbon - October 29, 2007.

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Khosla Ventures and BIOeCON in joint venture to develop catalytic cracking of biomass into fuels

Khosla Ventures and BIOeCON announced today the formation of their joint venture KiOR Inc. Khosla Ventures will provide the Series A funding whereas BIOeCON will bring its knowledge and intellectual property for its ‘Biomass Catalytic Cracking Process’ (BCC). KiOR Inc. will focus on the further development and commercialization of the BCC technology as well as prepare for raising significantly more capital in the next two to three years.

The key technical problem in the conversion of cellulosic biomass into usable fuels is how to open up the inaccessible solid fibrous lignocellulosic material, so that it can be effectively transformed. Most of the existing processes to unlock these woody structures are quite costly and intensive of energy or chemicals. BIOeCON has developed a simple non-energy intensive way to make the woody biomass accessible to catalysts and convert to a bio-oil product with significantly improved product properties compared to other thermochemical processes.

Current next-generation bioconversion techniques for the production of liquids from biomass show the following disadvantages:
  • Bio-catalytic (enzymatic) conversion, better known as cellulosic ethanol made via biochemical transformation: in this process, the fibrous cellulose is not easily ‘accessible’ to enzymes, requiring long conversion times (> 50 hours) and large reactor volumes (~10% solids); it presents a high cost of ethanol-water separation
  • Gasification followed by gas-to-liquids (GTL): gasification of biomass is energy intensive because it requires high temperatures; GTL process is a complex, multi-step process and comes at a high cost
  • Thermochemical cracking, known as fast-pyrolysis to yield bio-oil: the disadvantage is the fact that a poor quality product is obtained (bio-oil, pyrolysis oil) which requires costly post-treating
In conventional catalytic cracking, or catalytic pyrolysis, solid biomass remains inaccessible to catalysts. But BIOeCON has developed a novel nano-catalysis process (BCC) which breaks down the lignocellulose much faster.

Classic catalytic pyrolysis is a simple, effective process that does not require high capital costs but results in low product quality that is tarry, black, acid and shows relatively poor yields. The BCC process takes the advantages of this catalytic pyrolysis process with it, using existing proven technology elements for large scale production, but delivers a high product quality with a low acidity, high yields and a strong energy balance (schematic, click to enlarge).
BIOeCON has a strong R&D network and solid scientific fundamentals. We have done a thorough evaluation of the technology and research programs and believe this can be a breakthrough technology. - Doug Cameron, Khosla Ventures’ Chief Scientific Advisor
With the BCC technique, abundant lignocellulosic biomass - found in grass, wood, and various agricultural and forestry wastes - can be turned into a bio-oil product that can be further upgraded to a wide range of transportation fuels:
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The conversion of cellulosic biomass to bio-oil thus represents a significant commercial opportunity that also offers important benefits, including using post-harvesting waste; promoting environmental sustainability; reducing reliance on fossil fuels such as crude oil; and enabling economic development and job creation in rural areas.

KiOR’s concept and approach is unique and has the potential to become a large scale, widely applied technology, that can improve energy availability and sustainability to both the developed and developing world. The BCC technology unlocks the energy of vast amounts of biomass waste and converts it into a high valued energy product. This will not only reduce net carbon dioxide emission, but can also improve the energy independence of many countries.

BIOeCON: Biomass Conversion: A Sustainable Path to Clean Renewable Energy, Fuels and Chemicals. Presentation by Paul O’Connor, Rob van der Meij, Vienna - September 2007

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Chevron and National Renewable Energy Laboratory to collaborate on research to produce transportation fuels using algae

Chevron Corporation and the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) announced that they have entered into a collaborative research and development agreement to study and advance technology to produce liquid transportation fuels using algae.

Chevron and NREL scientists will collaborate to identify and develop algae strains that can be economically harvested and processed into finished transportation fuels such as jet fuel. Chevron Technology Ventures, a division of Chevron U.S.A. Inc., will fund the initiative.

The research project announced is the second under a five-year strategic biofuels research alliance between Chevron and NREL announced in October 2006. The first involves bio-oil reforming, a process by which bio-oils derived from the decomposition of biological feedstocks are then converted into hydrogen and biofuels.
NREL operated the Aquatic Species Program for the Department of Energy for nearly 20 years, giving us unique insights into the research required to produce cost-effective fuels from algal oils or lipids. Our scientists have the advanced tools and the experience to rapidly increase the yield and productivity of key species of algae. In Chevron we have found an ideal research partner with the skills and knowledge to transform these algal lipids to cost-competitive fuels and to distribute those fuels to consumers. - Dan Arvizu, NREL Director
Algae are considered a promising potential feedstock for next-generation biofuels because certain species contain high amounts of oil, which could be extracted, processed and refined into transportation fuels using currently available technology. Other benefits of algae as a potential feedstock are their abundance and fast growth rates. Key technical challenges include identifying the strains with the highest oil content and growth rates and developing cost-effective growing and harvesting methods (earlier post):
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Biofuels will play an increasingly important role in diversifying energy supplies to meet the world's growing energy needs, says Don Paul, vice president and chief technology officer, Chevron Corporation. Chevron believes that nonfood feedstock sources such as algae and cellulose hold the greatest promise to grow the biofuels industry to large scale. Collaboration between industry, universities, research institutions and government is essential to overcoming the technological and commercial challenges of manufacturing high-quality transportation fuels from unconventional feedstocks.

Chevron is not alone in re-launching algae research. Several companies have announced 'major breakthroughs', but apparently none have really materialised. Algae are promising, but much more research is needed to identify suitable growing techniques. One of the biggest challenges is to find a compromise between, on the one hand, growing in photobioreactors, in which algae can be controlled and kept stable - but such reactors were deemed too expensive during the Aquatic Species Program - and, on the other, the much less expensive technique of growing algae in open ponds, which presents the problem of algae contamination and competition with other strains.

Biopact recently conducted an interview with a nano-biotechnologist who studied algae-to-biofuels proposals in depth and who has been skeptical of the recent 'breakthroughs' (earlier post). Algae may offer opportunities over the long term, but a considerable amount of new research is required. It is interesting to see that the NREL is taking back up this research, which it started in the 1970s, and is doing so in collaboration with a major oil company that has said 'oil is plenty'.

Picture: Tetraselmis Suecica, a large green flagellate with a high lipid level that was tested extensively during the U.S. Aquatic Species Program in the 1980s.

Chevron: Chevron and National Renewable Energy Laboratory to Collaborate on Research to Produce Transportation Fuels Using Algae - October 31, 2007.

Biopact: Scientist skeptical of algae-to-biofuels potential - interview - July 18, 2007

Biopact: An in-depth look at biofuels from algae - January 19, 2007

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