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    A new Agency to manage Britain's commitment to biofuels was established today by Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly. The Renewable Fuels Agency will be responsible for the day to day running of the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation, coming into force in April next year. By 2010, the Obligation will mean that 5% of all the fuels sold in the UK should come from biofuels, which could save 2.6m to 3m tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. eGov Monitor - November 5, 2007.

    Prices for prompt loading South African coal cargoes reached a new record last week with a trade at $85.00 a tonne free-on-board (FOB) for a February cargo. Strong Indian demand and tight supply has pushed South African prices up to record levels from around $47.00 at the beginning of the year. European DES/CIF ARA coal prices have remained fairly stable over the past few days, having traded up to a record $130.00 a tonne DES ARA late last week. Fair value is probably just below $130.00 a tonne, traders said. At this price, some forms of biomass become directly competitive with coal. Reuters Africa - November 4, 2007.

    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.

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Large glycerin surplus from the production of biodiesel seen by 2010

Biodiesel production from vegetable oils or animal fats produces a large percentage (as much as 10%) of glycerin (glycerol) as a by-product. With a view on making the best use of this ever increasing by-product, the University Rey Juan Carlos (URJC) in Madrid has undertaken a research project entitled “Transformation of glycerine in biodiesel” which focuses on its recyclability. It estimates that in the next few years there will be a surplus of cheap glycerin in Europe since a parliamentary directive stated states that by the year 2010, 5,75% of the petrol and diesel sold for transport must be a biofuel.

Currently glycerin has a relatively high price making its use as an energy source prohibitive today. But the exponential growth of its production will eventually exceed its current demand for traditional uses, which is mainly in the synthesis of pharmaceutical products. According to data from the European Biodiesel Board, over three million tons of biodiesel were produced in 2005, which represents a growth of 64,7% with respect to 2004. In 2006 there was a production of five million tons, a 54% rise from the previous year. And it is believed that output will continue on this trend, with a yearly production of 10 million tons of biodiesel expected by 2010 and therefore around a million tons of glycerin. This underscores the importance of finding new applications for this by-product.

One of the more recent alternatives, and the one under investigation by the (URJC) research group directed by Juan Antonio Melero, consist of the transformation of glycerin into products that could partially replace diesel in a cost-competitive manner, with the added advantage that the compounds produced (glycerin ethers) added to diesel in certain proportions, improve the low temperature response, reducing its viscosity and contaminant emissions of the diesel:
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Other researchers have found cost-effective ways to use crude glycerin as feedstock for new types of biopolymers, bioplastic films, and green specialty chemicals such as propylene glycol. Others found glycerin makes for a suitable cattle and poultry feed or for the production of biogas.

Most recently researchers at Rice University in Houston announced they developed a way to convert glycerin into ethanol. Both sectors are now linked and could create synergies that make both more efficient (previous post).

AlphaGalileo: By 2010 there will be a large glycerin surplus from the production of biodiesel - November 5, 2007.

Biopact: Scientists convert biodiesel byproduct glycerin into ethanol - November 04, 2007

Biopact: GS CleanTech to produce biodiesel from corn ethanol co-product - October 23, 2007

Biopact: The bioeconomy at work: Dow develops propylene glycol from biodiesel residue - March 19, 2007

Biopact: Students patent biopolymer made from biodiesel and wine byproducts - June 20, 2007

Biopact: Researchers make biodegradable films from biofuel and dairy byproducts - June 11, 2007

Biopact: Researchers study effectiveness of glycerin as cattle feed - May 25, 2007

Biopact: Biodiesel byproduct glycerine makes excellent chicken food - August 04, 2006

Biopact: Glycerin as a biogas feedstock - December 27, 2006

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Chinese biomass plant that sells carbon credits to Electricité de France comes online

A biomass-fired power plant that burns plant and vegetable stalks to generate electricity went into operation today in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province. The power plant, with an installed capacity of 30MW, is expected to burn more than 200,000 tons of stalks annually and generate 175 million kwh of electricity, according to Wang Jun'an, executive general manager of the Guoneng Wangkui Bio Energy Company in Wangkui County, Heilongjiang Province. Carbon credits will be sold to Electricité de France (EDF), the European state-owned energy giant.

The plant is the first of its kind in northeast China. The National Bio Energy Company (NBE), Ltd, a subsidiary of the State Grid Corporation of China, has earmarked 553 million yuan ($74 million) for the project. NBE currently operates six working biomass plants throughout the People's Republic. But it aims to have around 30 such plants with a combined capacity of 2,050 megawatts under construction and in operation by 2010 (previous post and here; click map to visit an interactive presentation).

As reported earlier, the plant will sell certified emission reduction (CERs) credits to EDF under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Last year, EDF Trading signed a letter of intent with China National Bio Energy Co Ltd to purchase carbon credits from three of its biomass power projects, equivalent to 1.5 million tons of CO2. NBE's two other projects under contract with EDF are located in East China's Shandong Province and Northeast China's Jilin provinces (earlier post).

The CDM, an arrangement under the Kyoto Protocol, allows industrialized countries with a greenhouse gas reduction commitment to invest in projects that reduce emissions in developing countries. It is considered an alternative to more expensive emission reductions in industrialized countries:
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The National Bio Energy Company, which promotes China's renewable energy industry through biomass power generation, aims to generate 55 percent of the country's biomass power in 2010.

According to China's newest renewable energy development targets, biomass power will become the second largest sector after hydropower and grow almost three-fold to reach 5.5 GW in 2010 from 2 GW in 2005, and 15 times as much by 2020, to 30 GW (earlier post on China's new $265 billion Renewables Program).

Xinhuanet: Biomass-fired power plant starts operation in NE China - November 5, 2007.

Biopact: A closer look at China's biomass power plants - April 19, 2007

Biopact: Expert: China's biomass power plants to be profitable in three years - October 30, 2007

Biopact: China unveils $265 billion renewable energy plan, aims for 15% renewables by 2020 - September 06, 2007

Biopact: French energy giant to buy carbon credits from Chinese biomass projects - October 26, 2006

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Biofuel producer leaves Australia for U.S.

Booming demand from China and India is the major factor responsible for the increase in food and commodity prices. An Australian biofuel producer is experiencing this first-hand and has decided to shut down its operations in Perth and Adelaide because the price of its main feedstock, tallow, has increased too much on Asian demand.

Perth-based Australian Renewable Fuels (ARF) blamed the shut-in of its two plants with a combined capacity of 44 million litres on rising prices of tallow: the raw material increased from A$600 (US$552) per tonne to A$900 (US$828) per tonne in the last six months as a result of burgeoning demand from China. "As a consequence, production of biodiesel from [the two plants] has become uneconomic, with no indication of material improvement in feedstock prices in the immediate future," ARF said in the statement issued to the Australian Stock Exchange.

The company is moving to the United States in search for more favourable market conditions because lack of government support is another factor that made production in Australia uneconomic.

ARF's Chairman Max Ger also lashed out at the Australian government and opposition for paying lip service to the woes of biodiesel producers. Ger told the Australian press the government had granted the company more than A$7 million (US$6.4 million) two years ago to build the plant in Adelaide, but subsequent changes to the Fuel Tax Act made it 'virtually impossible' to sell biofuel because incentives for users had almost dried up.

A legislative change last year made it impossible for users of biodiesel and mineral diesel blends to claim the A$0.36 (US$0.33) a litre tax rebate. "The federal government made it impossible for us to sell biodiesel to anybody but the oil majors," Ger said. However, oil companies, with the exception of Caltex, were indifferent, or 'mildly hostile' to biodiesel users, who relied on the oil majors to develop distribution networks, he added:
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With ARF losing money on every litre sold, Ger said the closures of the Picton (Perth) and Largs Bay (Adelaide) operations were needed to preserve cash. The two plants, which cost ARF A$47 million (US$43 million) to build, are now under care and maintenance pending a review by adviser, Macquarie Bank. ARF is now moving on to focus on the development of opportunities in the United States' biodiesel market, particularly in New Mexico. ARF deems the market conditions in the United States as more favourable, with a biodiesel mandate backing the demand and the presence of a more diverse range of feedstock as well as export prohibitions on tallow mitigating cost pressures.

ARF's move to cut its operations in Australia comes a week after former federal opposition leader, John Hewson resigned as the chairman of Australia-based Natural Fuel, which has been hit by rising costs and delays in the construction of a major plant in Singapore. Last month, AgriEnergy dropped plans to build a A$100 million (US$92 million) ethanol plant near Swan Hill, in favour of focusing on its advanced biodiesel plant at Beatrice, Neb., in the United States.

The Age: Clean fuel company shuts works, sack workers - November 5, 2007.

Energy Current: Biofuel producer leaves Australia for U.S. - November 5, 2007.

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Black carbon from fossil fuels heats the planet, soot from biomass cools it

Black carbon contained in soot from the combustion of fossil fuels may be responsible for around 16% of the gross warming of the planet. According to testimony provided by five scientists before the US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, it may be the second-most significant global warming pollutant after carbon dioxide and ahead of methane.

The black carbon in soot performs its warming by absorbing sunlight, converting it into infrared (heat) radiation, and emitting that heat radiation to the air around it. Soot on the surface of snow and sea ice contribute to both the melting of those surfaces as well as the warming of the air (earlier post).

But according to the scientists, particles from burning biomass are less oily and contain a much lower black carbon fraction than fossil fuel soot particles. Biomass-burning particles thus tend to cool climate on a global scale. This results in the so-called 'global dimming' effect.

Testifying before the committee were:
  • Dr. Mark Z. Jacobson, Prof. of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Atmosphere/Energy Program, Stanford University
  • Dr. Tami C. Bond, Asst. Prof. of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Dr. V. Ramanathan, Prof. of Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, University of San Diego
  • Dr. Charles Zender, Assoc. Prof. of Earth System Science, University of California at Irvine.
  • Dr. Joel Schwartz, Professor of Environmental Epidemiology, Harvard University
Because of the relatively short lifetime of soot in the atmosphere compared to greenhouse gases, control of soot may be the fastest method of slowing warming for a specific period, according to Dr. Jacobson.

Black carbon, noted Dr. Bond, adds 2-3 order of magnitude more energy to the climate system than an equivalent mass of CO2 because black carbon is an extremely good absorber of visible light. While carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for decades, it absorbs just a small amount of infrared radiation:

The findings have implications for the use of diesel fuel. Because of their increased fuel efficiency relative to gasoline vehicles, diesels are seen as an improvement over gasoline with respect to global warming issues. However, once soot warming is factored in, the difference between the two platforms is greatly reduced, as diesel emits more soot than gasoline:
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Methods proposed to control fuel soot include improving engines; switching fuels; adding particle traps; and changing vehicle technologies.
In sum, there is not an advantage and a potential disadvantage of diesel versus gasoline in terms of climate and air pollution impact. However, neither type of vehicle is satisfactory or useful for solving climate and health problems as the emissions from both are very high. Even modest improvements in mileage standards for all vehicles are beneficial, but will only delay the eventual increase in emissions due to a larger population. — Dr. Jacobson
The scientists therefor advise a conversion of vehicles from fossil fuels to electric, plug-in hybrid or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, where the electricity or hydrogen is produced by a renewable energy sources.

The good new is that, given the fact that biomass particles may help cool the planet, their use in dedicated power plants would become a viable strategy to fight global warming. Moreover, unlike any of the conventional renewables (wind, solar, geothermal, etc...) biomass can be used in carbon-negative energy systems.

The overall effect of biomass used in so-called 'bio-energy with carbon storage' (BECS) systems on reducing global warming, can thus become even larger than first predicted.

Image: Map showing the annual mean temperature change due to dirty snow in degrees Celsius.

U.S. House, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform: Hearing Examines Black Carbon and Global Warming - October 18, 2007

GreenCarCongress: Black Carbon May be Second-Most Significant Global Warming Pollutant After Carbon Dioxide; Alters Picture of Diesel Engine Benefits - November 5, 2007.

Biopact: Dirty snow may warm Arctic as much as greenhouse gases - cleaner fuels needed - June 06, 2007

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