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    OPEC leaders began a summit today with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez issuing a chilling warning that crude prices could double to US$200 from their already-record level if the United States attacked Iran or Venezuela. He urged assembled leaders from the OPEC, meeting for only the third time in the cartel's 47-year history, to club together for geopolitical reasons. But the cartel is split between an 'anti-US' block including Venezuela, Iran, and soon to return ex-member Ecuador, and a 'neutral' group comprising most Gulf States. France24 - November 17, 2007.

    The article "Biofuels: What a Biopact between North and South could achieve" published in the scientific journal Energy Policy (Volume 35, Issue 7, 1 July 2007, Pages 3550-3570) ranks number 1 in the 'Top 25 hottest articles'. The article was written by professor John A. Mathews, Macquarie University (Sydney, Autralia), and presents a case for a win-win bioenergy relationship between the industrialised and the developing world. Mathews holds the Chair of Strategic Management at the university, and is a leading expert in the analysis of the evolution and emergence of disruptive technologies and their global strategic management. ScienceDirect - November 16, 2007.

    Timber products company China Grand Forestry Resources Group announced that it would acquire Yunnan Shenyu New Energy, a biofuels research group, for €560/$822 million. Yunnan Shenyu New Energy has developed an entire industrial biofuel production chain, from a fully active energy crop seedling nursery to a biorefinery. Cleantech - November 16, 2007.

    Northern European countries launch the Nordic Bioenergy Project - "Opportunities and consequences of an expanding bio energy market in the Nordic countries" - with the aim to help coordinate bioenergy activities in the Nordic countries and improve the visibility of existing and future Nordic solutions in the complex field of bioenergy, energy security, competing uses of resources and land, regional development and environmental impacts. A wealth of data, analyses and cases will be presented on a new website - Nordic Energy - along with announcements of workshops during the duration of project. Nordic Energy - November 14, 2007.

    Global Partners has announced that it is planning to increase its refined products and biofuels storage capacity in Providence, Rhode Island by 474,000 barrels. The partnership has entered into agreements with New England Petroleum Terminal, at a deepwater marine terminal located at the Port of Providence. PRInside - November 14, 2007.

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) kicks off the meeting in Valencia, Spain, which will result in the production of the Synthesis Report on climate change. The report will summarize the core findings of the three volumes published earlier by the separate working groups. IPCC - November 12, 2007.

    Biopact's Laurens Rademakers is interviewed by Mongabay on the risks of large-scale bioenergy with carbon storage (BECS) proposals. Even though Biopact remains positive about BECS, because it offers one of the few safe systems to mitigate climate change in a drastic way, care must be take to avoid negative impacts on tropical forests. Mongabay - November 10, 2007.

    According to the latest annual ranking produced by The Scientist, Belgium is the world's best country for academic research, followed by the U.S. and Canada. Belgium's top position is especially relevant for plant, biology, biotechnology and bioenergy research, as these are amongst the science fields on which it scores best. The Scientist - November 8, 2007.

    Mascoma Corporation, a cellulosic ethanol company, today announced the acquisition of Celsys BioFuels, Inc. Celsys BioFuels was formed in 2006 to commercialize cellulosic ethanol production technology developed in the Laboratory of Renewable Resources Engineering at Purdue University. The Celsys technology is based on proprietary pretreatment processes for multiple biomass feedstocks, including corn fiber and distiller grains. The technology was developed by Dr. Michael Ladisch, an internationally known leader in the field of renewable fuels and cellulosic biofuels. He will be taking a two-year leave of absence from Purdue University to join Mascoma as the company’s Chief Technology Officer. Business Wire - November 7, 2007.

    Bemis Company, Inc. announced today that it will partner with Plantic Technologies Limited, an Australian company specializing in starch-based biopolymers, to develop and sell renewably resourced flexible films using patented Plantic technology. Bemis - November 7, 2007.

    Hungary's Kalocsa Hõerõmû Kft is to build a HUF 40 billion (€158.2 million) straw-fired biomass power plant with a maximum capacity of 49.9 megawatts near Kalocsa in southern Hungary. Portfolio Hungary - November 7, 2007.

    Canada's Gemini Corporation has received approval to proceed into the detailed engineering, fabrication and construction phases of a biogas cogeneration facility located in the Lethbridge, Alberta area, the first of its kind whereby biogas production is enhanced through the use of Thermal Hydrolysis technology, a high temperature, high pressure process for the safe destruction of SRM material from the beef industry. The technology enables a facility to redirect waste material, previously shipped to landfills, into a valuable feedstock for the generation of electricity and thermal energy. This eliminates the release of methane into the environment and the resultant solids are approved for use as a land amendment rather than re-entering the waste stream. In addition, it enhances the biogas production process by more than 25%. Market Wire - November 7, 2007.

    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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Saturday, November 17, 2007

IPCC scientists call on bioenergy and biofuels to help combat global warming

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) today released the Summary for Policy Makers of its long-awaited Synthesis Report. In it, the IPCC synthesises the conclusions contained in the three previous reports of the Fourth Assessment, namely those that deal with the scientific evidence for climate change, its likely impacts and possible mitigation and adaptation options.

The UN's climate panel states that climate change is 'unequivocal', man made and - this is new - may bring 'abrupt and irreversible' impacts. This means that the window to mitigate and adapt is closing quickly. It also implies that strategies that were specifically designed to deal with the eventuality of 'abrupt climate change' will now have to be implemented.

These strategies draw on carbon-negative bioenergy and biofuels, specially designed for the worst case scenario of abrupt climate change. The IPCC therefor explicitly recognizes the concept of 'bio-energy with carbon storage' (also known as BECS, negative emissions energy or as 'biomass coupled to CCS') as well as techniques aimed at increasing soil carbon storage. Through biochar and terra preta systems, the latter objective can be coupled to the production of carbon-negative biofuels, which effectively store carbon in soils.

The IPCC says that without extra measures, carbon dioxide emissions will continue to rise; they are already growing faster than a decade ago, partly because of increasing use of coal. The IPCC's economic analyses say that trend can be reversed at reasonable cost.

In the section on mitigation, the scientists of the IPCC present key mitigation options per economic sector. The bioeconomy is called on to play a major role in all of the sectors contributing to global warming - from the use of energy crops to replace fossil fuels, over biofuels for transport, to biogas production from manure and to biomass coupled to carbon capture and storage. An overview:

For the energy and transport sector, bioenergy and biofuels are set to play a key role. The IPCC suggests the use of renewable heat and power, from bioenergy, and combined heat and power (CHP) obtained from integrated biomass power plants as key options to replace fossil fuels and to make heating and power generation more efficient. In the transport sector, the use of liquid renewable fuels and second generation biofuels is encouraged. Likewise, hybrids and a gradual move to electric vehicles is proposed, which would blend in well with carbon-negative bioenergy.

Biofuel blending policies and CO2 standards for road transport are seen as policies that have shown to be environmentally effective. Likewise, a reduction of fossil fuel subsidies and taxes or carbon charges on fossil fuels are instruments that can contribute. For renewable power and heat, feed in tariffs, renewable energy obligations and producer subsidies have been shown to work to promote their uptake.

Most importantly, the IPCC scientists finally recognize carbon-negative energy, also known as 'biotic CCS', 'bio-energy with carbon storage' or 'negative emissions energy'. This most radical of emission reduction concepts is based on coupling bioenergy and biofuel systems to carbon capture and storage (CCS). Nuclear power, ordinary biofuels or renewables like wind and solar power are all 'carbon-neutral' at best, that is, they do not add new CO2 to the atmosphere. Carbon-negative bioenergy and biofuels go much further: they take historic emissions out of the atmosphere.

Scientists have been calling for equal opportunities for biotic CCS and negative emissions biofuels. See for example Stefan Grönkvist, Kenneth Möllersten and Kim Pingoud's article: "Equal Opportunity for Biomass in Greenhouse Gas Accounting of CO2 Capture and Storage: A Step Towards More Cost-Effective Climate Change Mitigation Regimes" published recently in Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change. The IPCC scientists have finally taken their collegues' call to heart:
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The agriculture, forestry and waste management sectors offer major opportunities for the bioeconomy to help cut back greenhouse gas emissions.

In agriculture, improved crop and grazing practises to enhance soil carbon storage are called on. One of the prime techniques to achieve this is to convert energy crops into biofuels while retaining part of their biomass in the form of biochar which is then sequestered in soils. This is an effective technique not only to add carbon to soils, but to strengthen their capacity to retain organic carbon.

Morever, these carbon-negative biofuels and their biochar component have shown to reduce fertilizer needs for crops, to result in more efficient utilization of fertilizers and to improve the efficiency of water use in agriculture. These two demands - improved efficiency in the use of fertilizers and water - are seen by the IPCC as important instruments to reduce the carbon footprint and inefficiency of agriculture.

Livestock and manure management to reduce methane (CH4) levels too forms an important mitigation strategy, which implies, amongst other things, applications for the production of biogas from manure.

Finally, the IPCC scientists also call for the production of dedicated energy crops to replace fossil fuel use. A lot of work from the scientific community is going into the development of next generation energy crops. And many energy plantations aimed at producing biomass as substitute for fossil fuels are being established.

In the forestry sector, the IPCC again sees the utilization of forestry resources for bioenergy as a key global warming mitigation strategy. It specifically points at the development of tree species with improved carbon storage capacity. The first of these special trees have meanwile been engineered - Eucalyptus (previous post), a prime tropical energy crop, and Dahurian Larch, found in Northeastern Asia and Siberia (more here). When such trees which take more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere are coupled to carbon-negative bioenergy and biofuel production, a giant leap towards radically negative emissions energy and fuel systems can be obtained (and the era of fourth generation biofuels would be opened.)

Last but not least, the bioeconomy is set to play a key role in the waste management sector. Biogas from landfills is seen as a mitigation option, as is controlled waste water treatment, which allows the use of bioenergy production by means of Microbial Fuel Cells (MFCs) which purify water while generating energy from the waste it contains. Finally, the use of biocovers and biofilters is encouraged to optimise CH4 oxidation.

In the buildings sector, lots of improvements can be made by drawing on bioproducts and bioenergy. The IPCC calls for more efficient heating and cooling systems, which opens a specific role for bioenergy based polygeneration systems. Improved insulation of buildings can be achieved by, amongst other options, a greater reliance on wood in the construction of homes. An example of such a green wood-based building would be Britain's 'most efficient' and cleanest public building, the Dalby Forest visitor centre in North Yorkshire, which is entirely built from wood and heated by biomass (previous post).

Turning to the developing world, improved cooking stoves are seen as key to reduce the contribution of poor households to global warming. Biopact reports regularly on this subject: the replacement of open fires by efficient biogas cooking systems or improved stoves for the use of modern biofuels (such as ethanol gelfuels, biopropane, or biokerosene) could make a direct difference in improving the health of millions of women and children in poor rural households, as well as reducing the unsustainable use of forest and wood resources, and the emissions generated by these primitive forms of energy use.

In the industrial sector, two main suggestions imply a role for the bioeconomy. First and foremost the substitution of carbon-intensive materials by more renewable ones (e.g. biopolymers for the production of plastics, instead of petroleum).

Secondly, and this is a field of growing interest to the bioenergy community, the replacement of fossil fuels by biofuels in the large industrial sectors like the cement, and iron industry. Major initiatives are underway to utilize biomass instead of coal in these sectors, with the added advantage that if their CO2 emissions are captured and sequestered (CCS), negative emissions energy becomes possible once again. For examples of the substitution of coal by biomass in the cement industry, see here and here. For a large EU-funded research project into the use of biomass for the production of green iron and steel, named ULCOS (Ultra Low CO2 Steelmaking), see this previous post.

The IPCC thus sees an important role for the bioeconomy to contribute to a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, in all economic sectors held responsible for climate change.

The panel's scientists say the reversal to a low carbon economy needs to come within a decade if the worst effects of global warming are to be avoided.

The findings will now feed into the Bali talks on the UN climate convention and the Kyoto Protocol which open on 3 December.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: Summary for Policymakers of the AR4 Synthesis Report [*.pdf] - November 17, 2007.

The three previous Fourth Assessment Report publications by the IPCC's three working groups are discussed here:
Biopact: IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: climate change 'very likely' caused by humans - [Working Group I], February 02, 2007

Biopact: IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: current and future impacts of climate change on human and natural environments - [Working Group II], April 06, 2007

Biopact: IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: mitigation of climate change - [Working Group III], May 04, 2007

On carbon-negative biofuels and bioenergy, see:
The studies by the Abrupt Climate Change Strategy (ACCS) group.

Peter Read and Jonathan Lermit: "Bio-Energy with Carbon Storage (BECS): a Sequential Decision Approach to the threat of Abrupt Climate Change", Energy, Volume 30, Issue 14, November 2005, Pages 2654-2671.

Noim Uddin and Leonardo Barreto, "Biomass-fired cogeneration systems with CO2 capture and storage", Renewable Energy, Volume 32, Issue 6, May 2007, Pages 1006-1019, doi:10.1016/j.renene.2006.04.009

Stefan Grönkvist, Kenneth Möllersten, Kim Pingoud, "Equal Opportunity for Biomass in Greenhouse Gas Accounting of CO2 Capture and Storage: A Step Towards More Cost-Effective Climate Change Mitigation Regimes", Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, Volume 11, Numbers 5-6 / September, 2006, DOI 10.1007/s11027-006-9034-9

Christian Azar, Kristian Lindgren, Eric Larson and Kenneth Möllersten, "Carbon Capture and Storage From Fossil Fuels and Biomass – Costs and Potential Role in Stabilizing the Atmosphere", Climatic Change, Volume 74, Numbers 1-3 / January, 2006, DOI 10.1007/s10584-005-3484-7

David Tilman, Jason Hill, Clarence Lehman, "Carbon-Negative Biofuels from Low-Input High-Diversity Grassland Biomass", Science, 8 December 2006: Vol. 314. no. 5805, pp. 1598 - 1600, DOI: 10.1126/science.1133306

James S. Rhodesa and David W. Keithb, "Engineering economic analysis of biomass IGCC with carbon capture and storage", Biomass and Bioenergy, Volume 29, Issue 6, December 2005, Pages 440-450.

Further reading:
Biopact: IPCC to warn of 'abrupt' climate change: emergency case for carbon-negative biofuels kicks in - November 16, 2007

Biopact: Carbon-negative bioenergy is here: GreatPoint Energy to build biomass gasification pilot plant with carbon capture and storage - October 25, 2007

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

Biopact: Green steel made from tropical biomass - European project - February 08, 2007

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Brazil's CTC releases third generation of sugarcane varieties that yield up to 38 percent more profit

Brazil's universities and scientific organisations are world leaders in researching, developing and breeding sugarcane varieties. It was Brazil that first sequenced the energy crop's genome, and the country plants more of the genus than any other country. It also houses the world's largest library of genetic information on different sugarcane species. Now six new varieties have been developed [*Portuguese] by the Centro de Tecnologia Canavieira (CTC), which yield around 20% more biomass and contain higher levels of saccharose - the disaccharide that ends up as table sugar and ethanol. This results in increased profits per hectare of between 12.5 and 38 percent.

Breeding a sugarcane variety merely for increased biomass productivity does not suffice, says Marcos Casagrande, coordinator of plant breeding at the CTC. What use is a 20 percent increase in biomass when the variety has low levels of saccharose, cannot be harvested mechanically or is susceptible to diseases? To make a new variety worthwile for the production of sugar, bioenergy and ethanol, all of these factors must be targeted and combined in such a way that the new crop improves on all of them. A tall order indeed.

But the CTC delivered when it launched its third generation of sugarcane varieties for producers of different regions in the country's Center-South. The new varieties are called CTC10 through to CTC15, yielding more biomass with a higher saccharose yield.

The CTC's new varieties of the grassy crop are suitable for a specific region of the large country, known for its varied regional climatic conditions, its different soils and its different planting and harvesting seasons. The key to increased productivity is to develop varieties with the precise genetic material to match best with a specific region, and to plant them in the correct place. If this condition is not met, basic actions like correct fertilisation and cutting the cane at the optimal moment of maturation are in vain.

But what matters most, says Tadeu Andrade, director of Research & Development at the CTC, is the question as to whether a new variety will net more profits. And indeed, CTC 10 to CTC 15, bring in considerable more profits because the 'liquid margin' (margem líquida de contribuição) is much higher than current varieties.

According to Rubens Braga Júnio, statistician at the CTC, the 'liquid margin' represents the net profits generated by a given amount of sugar-rich juice harvested per hectare that can be processed into finished products like ethanol or sugar, after all costs for farm inputs (preparation, plantation, treatment, harvest and transport of the cane to the processing plant) and processing inputs have been subtracted. The liquid margin is averaged over a five-year period, the ideal life-cycle of sugarcane, which is a semi-perennial.

For CTC10 to CTC15 the liquid margin is between 12.5 to 37.85 percent higher than the conventional RB and SP varities that were developed by Brazilian universities and the Institute Agronômico de Campinas (IAC), which cover half of the sugarcane planted in the country:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

An example, CTC11 yields an average of 8.43 percent more biomass per hectare compared to existing varieties, but the liquid margin is R$539 (€210/$308) or 37.85 percent higher than the average. This is due because of a better performance on all parameters that count in sugar and ethanol production: higher saccharose content, better harvesteability and processing and improved tolerance to diseases, reducing the risk of losing harvests - a factor against which producers hedge, which costs money.

For the CTC, the success can be measured by the growing number of distributers and producers that join its program and offer its new varieties to planters. In 2004 the Center had 73 associates. Today the number has reached 163, which results in the CTC's sugarcane plants covering 54.4 percent of the total harvested in Brazil.

The Centro de Tecnologia Canavieira is the leading sugarcane research institute in Brazil, developing new varieties with improved processing efficiency and yield. It is further involved in phytosanitary research, biotechnology, agronomy, agricultural and industrial mechanisation as well as sugar, bioenergy and biofuel production itself.

The CTC is a non-profit whose aim is to disseminate knowledge, best practises and inputs to the sugarcane sector in Brazil.


EthanolBrasil: Novas variedades de cana rendem 38% mais - November 8, 2007.

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