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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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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Germany's Heating Oil Institute tests bio-based alternative to cut energy poverty, emissions

Households and institutions contribute in a major way to climate change, mainly because fossil energy is used for heating and cooling the buildings in which they live. There are many alternatives and small interventions that can make a big difference: better insulation, more efficient heating systems and a reliance on renewable heat and cooling sources. Home owners who utilize heating oil are opening the door to a bio-based alternative: heating oil made from energy plants. If coupled with solar-thermal systems, households can cut their carbon footprint in a major way. But improved efficiency and emissions cuts are no longer the sole worry. Not everyone can afford them. Energy poverty as a result of record-heating oil prices is becoming an equally serious problem. A bio-based alternative is set to be less expensive at current prices and could thus help combat energy poverty amongst low-income households.

Germany's Instituts für wirtschaftliche Oelheizung (IWO - Institute for Economic Heating with Oil) is now testing and developing heating oil blends with a biofuel, that can be readily used in existing installations. The low-sulphur 'bio-heating oil', it says, is going to deliver multiple advantages: a reduction of heating costs for households, a major reduction in carbon and sulphur emissions and benefits to farmers and producers.

Heating oil & energy poverty

The social aspects of this initiative should not be underestimated. Energy poverty is on the rise, both in Europe and in the U.S., and heating oil is rapidly becoming the key driver of this poverty. To give a feel of the problem: in a recent call for more funding, the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association (NEADA) says expenditures for home heating oil for U.S. households are projected to be almost 47.3% higher than last year’s level. The average American family is projected to pay about $693 more for home heating oil than last year, for a total of $2,157. In 2005, they paid only $935 (table, click to enlarge).

NEADA coordinates America's program to help low-income families get through the winter, called LIHEAP. These low-income families spend on average 15% of their budgets on energy, with heating oil taking a major share. According to the association, 25 % of all American households now qualify for energy assistance. But funding cuts for LIHEAP mean only 4.5 million U.S. families will benefit from the program, down from 5.6 million last year. The aid itself will be $314, down from $454 last year. In short, now that heating oil reaches record highs, millions of American families will struggle to make it through the coming winter (the NEADA is really worried, check this presentation by its director). A similar picture and policy measures can be found in Europe.

According to the IWO, heating with bio-heating oil, if used as the sole fuel, is expected to be between 20 and 25 percent less expensive than heating with the fossil fuel and could thus contribute in a significant way to slowing the increase in energy poverty. (Note, in Austria, the other major alternative - heating with biomass pellets - is now even 46% less costly than heating oil and 30% less costly than gas, explaining the biofuel's soaring popularity - earlier post).

Carbon cuts
For the development, the IWO is partnering with manufacturers of tanks and truck tankers, additives and component manufacturers, who are set to benefit from the project. Their common goal: to develop pure biobased heating oils and formulated blends that can be mixed directly and swiftly into existing infrastructures without the need for technical adaptations. On November 1, a 'pre-norm' (DIN V 51603-6) for the bio-based oil was approved.

Since the beginning of 2006, the IWO has been testing different types of bio-heating oil in the Oel-Wärme-Institut (OWI) lab to understand their properties, but also in the field on a larger scale: in highschools, universities and research institutions. So far, the utilization of the biofuel has run smoothly in existing installations:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

According to the IWO, bio-heating oil will have another major advantage: the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. If all 6.3 million heating oil installations in Germany were to use a heating oil blend that contains a mere 5% biofuel, then this would be equal to cutting the emissions of 315,000 fossil fuel powered installations.

Experts at the IWO project a per capita decline in the utilization of heating oil over the longer term because heating systems are becoming more efficient and because bio-based heating oil is becoming directly competitive, without subsidies.

Greener still
In principle, buildings and households can now meet their heating requirements by relying entirely on renewable resources. The use of bio-heating oil in existing installations can be integrated smoothly with active solar-heating installations.

The latter no longer only deliver thermal energy to heat water, but are increasingly used to back-up direct heating requirements during mild weather months. And, interestingly, in Germany, solar-thermal installations are particularly liked by households that rely on heating oil. According to data from the Bundesindustrieverbandes Deutschland Haus-, Energie- und Umwelttechnik (BDH - Federal Industry Association for Building, Energy and Environmental Technology) as well as from the Bundesverbandes Solarwirtschaft (BSW - Federal Association of Solar Economics), in the last five months of the year, 27 per cent of all new solar-heating installations sold in Germany were coupled to heating systems based on heating oil.

In a recent development, the U.S. state of Massachussets became the first to introduce a mandate for blending biofuel into heating oil. The mandate foresees a 2% blend by 2010 and 5% in 2013 for all home heating oil used in the Commonwealth (previous post).

But there is another option. Heating with biomass pellets has become the thing to do in Austria. There, the biofuel is currently a whopping 46 per cent less costly than heating oil and 30% less costly than natural gas - which explains its soaring popularity. For the average Austrian household, this makes a very significant difference. The yearly heating bill (24,000 kWh per year) costs around €2000 when heating oil is used. Heating with natural gas will cost a family around €1800 per year. With biomass pellets the bill can be reduced to €1100. Heat obtained from pellets thus costs around 3,8 eurocent/kWh, against 6 eurocent/kWh for gas and 6,7 eurocent/kWh for heating oil.

No wonder last year in Austria three times more biomass systems were installed than heating oil systems. In 2006, some 21,300 small (100kW) pellet heating boilers were built, which have saved the country some 80 million liters of heating oil and 80 million cubic meters of natural gas. In the same year, some 777 medium scale (100-1000kW) systems were installed, a 19% increase compared to 2005.

Picture: the IWO ran comprehensive tests with bio-heating oil, here in the Oel-Wärme-Institut (OWI), where the stability of the blend was tested. Credit: IWO.

IWO: Vornorm für Bioheizöl: Entwurf ist veröffentlicht [*.pdf]- November 2007.

Ratgeberbox: Öl-Brennwerttechnik mit Solarthermie und Biobrennstoffe senken Heizölbedarf - November 2007.

NEADA: Record Heating Oil Prices Projected State Low Income Energy Officials Call for Increased Energy Assistance - November 5, 2007.

Biopact: Massachusetts leaders introduce biofuels bill: first to mandate home heating oil blend, first tax exemption for cellulosic ethanol - November 07, 2007

Biopact: Biomass pellets revolution in Austria: 46% less costly than heating oil; most efficient way for households to reduce carbon footprint - October 06, 2007

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