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    German industrial conglomerate MAN AG plans to expand into renewable energies such as biofuels and solar power. Chief Executive Hakan Samuelsson said services unit Ferrostaal would lead the expansion. Reuters - November 24, 2007.

    Analysts think Vancouver-based Ballard Power Systems, which pumped hundreds of millions and decades of research into developing hydrogen fuel cells for cars, is going to sell its automotive division. Experts describe the development as "the death of the hydrogen highway". The problems with H2 fuel cell cars are manifold: hydrogen is a mere energy carrier and its production requires a primary energy input; production is expensive, as would be storage and distribution; finally, scaling fuel cells and storage tanks down to fit in cars remains a huge challenge. Meanwhile, critics have said that the primary energy for hydrogen can better be used for electricity and electric vehicles. On a well-to-wheel basis, the cleanest and most efficient way to produce hydrogen is via biomass, so the news is a set-back for the biohydrogen community. But then again, biomass can be used more efficiently as electricity for battery cars. Canada.com - November 21, 2007.

    South Korea plans to invest 20 billion won (€14.8/$21.8 million) by 2010 on securing technologies to develop synthetic fuels from biomass, coal and natural gas, as well as biobutanol. 29 private companies, research institutes and universities will join this first stage of the "next-generation clean energy development project" led by South Korea's Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy. Korea Times - November 19, 2007.

    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 24, 2007

Salzburg AG opens biomethane gas stations in Austria: driving on pure grass

Austrian energy company Salzburg AG has opened its first biomethane gas station for cars in Eugendorf. From December onwards, customers can fill up their natural gas vehicles with a climate-friendly blend of 20% CO2-neutral biogas and 80% natural gas at a price that beats all other transport fuels. The green fuel is made entirely from meadow grass, without the input of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.

Salzburg AG built the first part of a new dedicated gas infrastructure - a 2 kilometer pipeline - which feeds the upgraded biogas into its existing local natural gas grid. In 2008, the company will supply this 'Bioerdgas' to 14 similar stations that currently offer natural gas in the city and federal state of Salzburg . The regional energy administration is the station's first customer and will run its fleet on the clean gas.

The biogas is obtained from fermenting smooth meadow-grass (Poa pratensis, known in the U.S. as Kentucky bluegrass), an important meadow species found extensively in Austria's grasslands, where it is used by grazing livestock like cattle and sheep. The grass is grown and harvested in a sustainable manner. This feedstock was chosen because the species grows well with few inputs and it allows the landscape to be conserved. No new energy crops need to planted.

Given that all the grass is converted into a useable fuel and organic fertilizer, one could consider biogas production a form of 'cellulosic biofuel': it doesn't require easily fermentable sugars or starches - as do first generation liquid biofuels which rely on grains and oilseeds. As the Austrian project shows, a transport biofuel can be obtained from a cellulosic biomass feedstock like pure grass. Yield estimates for the biogas from grass are as follows: one hectare can yield between 2,900–5,400 cubic meters of pure methane per year, enough to fuel a passenger car for 40,000 to 60,000 kilometers (one acre of crops can power a car for 10,000 to 15,000 miles).

After the feedstock is harvested and anaerobically digested, raw biogas is obtained which consists of CH4, a large fraction of CO2 and trace gases. This crude green gas is then upgraded (CO2 removed) in a separate facility managed by Salzburg AG and purified to meet natural gas standards.
Natural gas cars have the future: with low emissions and a high efficiency, natural gas powered vehicles are pollution free and economical. We have engaged ourselves for years in promoting pollution free transport and are proud to feed CO2-neutral biomethane into our natural gas net. - August Hirschbichler, executive committee, Salzburg AG
The first filling station offers a mixture of 80% natural gas and 20% biomethane - a combination locally called 'bio-NG'. The fuel is offered at the same price as fossil natural gas. The gas station will initially have a capacity to service about 20 cars a day.

Regional energy administrator Sepp Eisl, who is also a national energy advisor, says the next step is to increase the biomethane share to 80% of the blend.
In the future, we will pursue the goal of ensuring that 80% of all driven kilometers are based on biogas. This fuel production pathway is absolutely innovative and pollution free, for several reasons: the biogas is produced without any inputs of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Its is locally produced and does not require any transportation. Local jobs are created and secured, and regional value is created because the project contributes to landscape conservation. - Sepp Eisl, energy advisor
Natural gas powered vehicles do not make the distinction between fossil and biogenic methane. For this reason, upgraded biogas can be blended into natural gas at different rates and ad hoc, depending on price evolutions. This will become an important advantage in the future:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

According to Salzburg AG, natural gas is a very efficient and clean fuel, and for consumers there is a clear cost-advantage: with a typical mid-sized vehicle, filling up your tank with 10 euros worth of 'bio-NG' you can drive about 240 kilometers; for the same amount of money, diesel will bring you 155 kilometers and a tank of gasoline only 118 kilometers.

Compared to gasoline and diesel, both greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants are reduced substantially. Natural gas alone cuts emissions by over 50% compared to diesel and 35% compared to gasoline. The higher the biogas fraction, the higher the CO2 reduction. When the biomethane share of the blend reaches 80%, the gas becomes entirely green and carbon neutral, because harvesting the grass from which it is made allows an increase in soil organic carbon, thus taking CO2 out of the atmosphere.

The combustion of natural gas and biogenic methane takes place in a quasi-total soot and particle-free way. Harmful exhaust gases - CO and NOx - are kept to a minimum.

Salzburg AG also offers conversions of vehicles to natural gas, which costs around 500 euros for private customers and 750 euros for commercial fleets. With rising diesel and gas prices, these costs are recuperated quickly.

Salzburg AG is the biggest provider of energy and infrastructure throughout the federal state of Salzburg. With sales of 825,4 million euro in 2006 and about 2.000 employees, Salzburg AG is one of the leading and innovative energy suppliers in Austria. Key to success is its multiutility service: Energy, public transport and telecommunication are supplied by
one source.

Picture 1: close-up of the meadow grass ('Wiesengras', 'Kentucy bluegrass', Poa pratensis) used for the production of biomethane.

Picture 2: Salzburg AG executive committee chairman August Hirschbichler, Matthaeus Gollackner who manages the biogas plant, and national energy advisor Sepp Eisl holding a pipe segment. Credit: Salzburg AG.

Translated for Biopact by Jonas Van Den Berg & Laurens Rademakers

Salzburg AG: Auto fahren mit Bioerdgas: umweltfreundlich und sparsam - November 22, 2007.

Salzburg AG: website dedicated to driving on natural gas and 'Bioerdgas'.

Biogas and methane yield data for temperate grass species can be found in the following dissertation:

Annimari Lehtomäki: Biogas production from energy crops and crop residues [*.pdf], Jyväskylä Studies in Biological and Environmental Sciences 163, PhD Dissertation, Faculty of Mathematics and Sciences, University of Jyväskylä, 2006.

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