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    The University of East Anglia and the UK Met Office's Hadley Centre have today released preliminary global temperature figures for 2007, which show the top 11 warmest years all occurring in the last 13 years. The provisional global figure for 2007 using data from January to November, currently places the year as the seventh warmest on records dating back to 1850. The announcement comes as the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Michel Jarraud, speaks at the Conference of the Parties (COP) in Bali. Eurekalert - December 13, 2007.

    The Royal Society of Chemistry has announced it will launch a new journal in summer 2008, Energy & Environmental Science, which will distinctly address both energy and environmental issues. In recognition of the importance of research in this subject, and the need for knowledge transfer between scientists throughout the world, from launch the RSC will make issues of Energy & Environmental Science available free of charge to readers via its website, for the first 18 months of publication. This journal will highlight the important role that the chemical sciences have in solving the energy problems we are facing today. It will link all aspects of energy and the environment by publishing research relating to energy conversion and storage, alternative fuel technologies, and environmental science. AlphaGalileo - December 10, 2007.

    Dutch researcher Bas Bougie has developed a laser system to investigate soot development in diesel engines. Small soot particles are not retained by a soot filter but are, however, more harmful than larger soot particles. Therefore, soot development needs to be tackled at the source. Laser Induced Incandescence is a technique that reveals exactly where soot is generated and can be used by project partners to develop cleaner diesel engines. Terry Meyer, an Iowa State University assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is using similar laser technology to develop advanced sensors capable of screening the combustion behavior and soot characteristics specifically of biofuels. Eurekalert - December 7, 2007.

    Lithuania's first dedicated biofuel terminal has started operating in Klaipeda port. At the end of November 2007, the stevedoring company Vakaru krova (VK) started activities to manage transshipments. The infrastructure of the biodiesel complex allows for storage of up to 4000 cubic meters of products. During the first year, the terminal plans to transship about 70.000 tonnes of methyl ether, after that the capacities of the terminal would be increased. Investments to the project totaled €2.3 million. Agrimarket - December 5, 2007.

    New Holland supports the use of B100 biodiesel in all equipment with New Holland-manufactured diesel engines, including electronic injection engines with common rail technology. Overall, nearly 80 percent of the tractor and equipment manufacturer's New Holland-branded products with diesel engines are now available to operate on B100 biodiesel. Tractor and equipment maker John Deere meanwhile clarified its position for customers that want to use biodiesel blends up to B20. Grainnet - December 5, 2007.

    According to Wetlands International, an NGO, the Kyoto Protocol as it currently stands does not take into account possible emissions from palm oil grown on a particular type of land found in Indonesia and Malaysia, namely peatlands. Mongabay - December 5, 2007.

    Malaysia's oil & gas giant Petronas considers entering the biofuels sector. Zamri Jusoh, senior manager of Petronas' petroleum development management unit told reporters "of course our focus is on oil and gas, but I think as we move into the future we cannot ignore the importance of biofuels." AFP - December 5, 2007.

    In just four months, the use of biodiesel in the transport sector has substantially improved air quality in Metro Manila, data from the Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) showed. A blend of one percent coco-biodiesel is mandated by the Biofuels Act of 2007 which took effect last May. By 2009, it would be increased to two percent. Philippine Star - December 4, 2007.

    Kazakhstan will next year adopt laws to regulate its fledgling biofuel industry and plans to construct at least two more plants in the next 18 months to produce environmentally friendly fuel from crops, industry officials said. According to Akylbek Kurishbayev, vice-minister for agriculture, he Central Asian country has the potential to produce 300,000 tons a year of biodiesel and export half. Kazakhstan could also produce up to 1 billion liters of bioethanol, he said. "The potential is huge. If we use this potential wisely, we can become one of the world's top five producers of biofuels," Beisen Donenov, executive director of the Kazakhstan Biofuels Association, said on the sidelines of a grains forum. Reuters - November 30, 2007.

    SRI Consulting released a report on chemicals from biomass. The analysis highlights six major contributing sources of green and renewable chemicals: increasing production of biofuels will yield increasing amounts of biofuels by-products; partial decomposition of certain biomass fractions can yield organic chemicals or feedstocks for the manufacture of various chemicals; forestry has been and will continue to be a source of pine chemicals; evolving fermentation technology and new substrates will also produce an increasing number of chemicals. Chemical Online - November 27, 2007.

    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.

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Scientists discover methane-eating bacterium that could help fight climate change

A new species of bacteria discovered living in one of the most extreme environments on Earth could yield a tool in the fight against global warming. In a paper published today in Nature, University of Calgary biology professor Peter Dunfield and colleagues describe the methane-eating microorganism they found in the geothermal field known as Hell's Gate, near the city of Rotorua in New Zealand.

It is the hardiest 'methanotrophic' bacterium yet discovered, which makes it a likely candidate for use in reducing methane gas emissions from landfills, mines, industrial wastes, geothermal power plants, and peatlands. The discovery once again suggests that investigating life in extreme environments - the search for useful 'extremophiles' - can contribute to solving some of the world's biggest problems. The bugs are finding applications in a wide range of fields, from the production of innovative pharmaceuticals to the efficient conversion of biomass into abundant biofuels (previous post).

The exotic bacterium discovered in Hell's Gate is a really tough methane-consuming organism that lives in a much more acidic environment than any of the scientists have ever seen before. It belongs to a rather mysterious family of bacteria called Verrucomicrobia that are found everywhere but are very difficult to grow in the laboratory.

Methanotrophic bacteria consume methane as their only source of energy and convert it to carbon dioxide during their digestive process. Methane (commonly known as natural gas) is 20 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and is largely produced by decaying organic matter. Scientists have long known that vast amounts of methane are produced in acidic environments, not only geothermal sites but also marshes and peat bogs. Much of it is consumed by methanotrophic bacteria, which serve an important role in regulating the methane content of the world's atmosphere.

Scientists are interested in understanding what conditions cause these bacteria to be more or less active in the environment. Unfortunately, few species have been closely studied. We now know that there are many more out there.

Professor Dunfield has tentatively named the new bacterium Methylokorus infernorum to reflect the 'hellish' location of its discovery where it lives in boiling waters filled with chemicals that are toxic to most life forms:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The Maori caretakers of the site, the Tikitere trust, have supported scientific study of the area. The study was conducted while Dunfield was working for GNS Science, a geological research institute owned by the New Zealand government. He recently joined the University of Calgary's Department of Biological Sciences as a professor of environmental microbiology.

The bacterium's genome has been completely sequenced by researchers at the University of Hawaii and Nankai University in China, which could help develop biotechnological applications for this organism.

Dunfield said he plans to pursue his work in Canada by hunting for new life forms in extreme environments such as northern peatlands, the oilsands of northern Alberta and the hot springs of Western Canada.
Hot springs are exotic and extreme habitats, where you find a lot of bizarre organisms. Bacteria are a fascinating group to work with because 95 per cent of them have never been studied in a lab and we have very little idea about what this huge amount of biodiversity is capable of. - Peter Dunfield, Professor of Biology, University of Calgary
Dunfield's Nature article was published online on November 14, 2007 and in the December 6 edition of the journal.

Peter F. Dunfield, et al., "Methane oxidation by an extremely acidophilic bacterium of the phylum Verrucomicrobia", Nature 450, 879-882 (6 December 2007), doi:10.1038/nature06411

Biopact: Investigating life in extreme environments may yield applications in the bioeconomy - July 05, 2007

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Industrial giants to reopen 15 closed sugar mills in Bihar; ethanol boom triggers rural revival

The sugar cane industry in India's Bihar state employs a large number of small farmers. Over the past decade, however, the sector has undergone a serious decline with falling world sugar prices, resulting in a social drama. The stagnation of the sugar cane industry saw more than a dozen mills being closed. But now, with record oil prices and the competitiveness of sugar cane derived ethanol, the sector is in for a major revival.

The Bihar State Sugar Corporation, under auspices of the state government, offers 15 closed mills under a long term lease of 60 years, extendable to 30 years. Some of India’s leading oil and industrial companies - Reliance Industries, Tata Chemicals, Fieldfresh of Bharati Enterprises and India Oil - have all expressed their interest in reopening them to produce ethanol.

Other companies that have purchased RFQ forms to make bids are Bharat Petroleum, Hindustan Petroleum, Renuka Sugars, Upper Ganges Sugar, Dhampur Sugar and India Glycols. Officials in the government-owned IOC, the country's largest refiner, also confirmed that it intends to make ethanol and will enter the bidding.

Closed for more than a decade, the mills together have a financial liability of 7 billion rupees (€121.3/US$177.4) under various heads and the funds raised by leasing them will be used to clear the liabilities.

The floor price of these mills, mostly based in northern Bihar, has been fixed at between 80 million (€1.38/US$2 million) and 700 million rupees (€12.1/US$17.7 million). The state is offering a capital subsidy of 10 percent of the investment, subject to a 100 million rupee ceiling.

Earlier this year, India's central government had made 5 per cent blending of ethanol in petrol mandatory and it would increase it to 10 percent by October 2008. This is an ambitious target, but it goes a long way in relieving sugar producers from the oversupply problems they have been facing.

In India, ethanol is made from molasses, a byproduct of sugar cane processing. The efficiency and cost-effectiveness of sugar cane ethanol is largely due to the high sugar yield of the plant and because these sugars can be readily fermented. Ethanol made from starches must first be broken down into simple sugars, whereas the utilization of lignocellulosic biomass requires even more complex thermochemical or biochemical processing steps.

Bihar currently has 252,000 hectares dedicated sugarcane cultivation and produces around 14.4 million tonnes of sugarcane every year. Compared to other states, Bihar is a relatively small player, with a 3% market share (map, click to enlarge). But the land area devoted to sugarcane accounts for only 4.5 per cent of the state’s cultivable area of more than 5.5 million hectares. This means there is vast scope to increase the sugarcane acreage:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Earlier this year, the Bihar state government amended the Bihar Sugarcane Regulation of Supply and Purchase Act of 1981, allowing sugarcane juice to be directly used to produce ethanol or rectified spirit. The new law also allows the use of bagasse, an abundant sugarcane byproduct, for co-generation of power. Integrated sugar and ethanol plants that utilize bagasse, can produce biofuels with a very strong energy balance.

Out of the 15 closed sugar mills on offer, eight have been reserved for sugarcane based industries like sugar mills, distilleries for ethanol and alcohol production while seven are allowed to be converted into non-sugarcane facilities.

According to state’s Sugarcane development minister, Nitish Mishra, a pre-bid meeting is to be held on December 8 in New Delhi. All bids need to be submitted by the December 20. The leasers will be shortlisted on December 29.

Sugarcane based ethanol has had no impact on world sugar prices so far. This is due to the fact that both Brazil and India made record harvests this year. Next year's harvest is set to break the record again. India has the world's second largest sugar industry, producing some 14 million tonnes of refined sugar per year from cane grown on 3.6 million hectares of land.

Mired by oversupplies, the sugar sector in India this year urged the government to urgently adopt mandatory ethanol targets, in order to push up the price of the commodity. The government responded with the ambitious 10% target for 2008, which will require the production 825,000 tonnes of ethanol (roughly 1 billion liters / 227 million gallons).

Bihar Times: Corporate giants interested in sugar mills of Bihar - December 6, 2007.

Business Standard: Reliance, Tata, Bharti eye Bihar sugar mills - December 6, 2007.

CommodityOnline: Oil giants eyeing Bihar sugar mills for ethanol - December 6, 2007.

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IMF chief economist: biofuels could help cut farm subsidies, protectionism main cause of high food prices

The trend toward increasing production of biofuels provides an opportunity to dismantle agricultural subsidies and tariffs in wealthy countries, according to the International Monetary Fund’s top economist. Non-governmental organisations and developing country governments have been calling for farm subsidy and trade reform for years, to give producers in the South a chance to develop domestic markets. Biofuels offer an opportunity to bring about this much needed transformation.

Writing in the December issue of the IMF’s Finance & Development magazine, Chief Economist Simon Johnson looks at how the adoption of biofuels in the EU and the US is driving up world food prices and how the trend can be curbed. Over the past 12 months, the world has experienced a substantial inflationary shock in the form of higher food prices, partly fueled by increasing demand for food crops such as corn, used for biofuels. This shock doesn’t necessarily translate into higher sustained inflation, Johnson writes; monetary policy in most countries appears to be responding appropriately. But it will have adverse effects relatively poor urban residents in low-income countries who depend on imported food.

However, there are two potential major silver linings: direct benefits for farmers in low-income countries and potential policy space for removing agricultural subsidies in rich countries. The vast majority of people qualified as 'poor' are farmers in developing countries. They stand to gain directly from the emerging biofuels industry.

In the IMF staff’s assessment, a significant part of the latest jump in food prices can be traced directly to biofuels policy in wealthy countries, Johnson writes.
A key part of this approach to biofuels is agricultural protectionism. A number of countries, including Brazil, can produce ethanol much cheaper, with a greater saving of nonrenewable energy and lower emissions, for example, by using sugar. But this sugar-based ethanol is subject to a prohibitive tariff in the United States (and there are similar barriers in Europe). - Simon Johnson, IMF Chief Economist
In addition, production subsidies in rich countries, which are intended to encourage innovation in this sector, seem to have led to excessive entry into the US ethanol distillery business.

The greatest potential gains of using crops for biofuels are for farmers everywhere, including the rural sector of poorer countries, Johnson writes:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

There is another potential opportunity in this rapidly developing difficult situation, Johnson writes.
Farm subsidies of various kinds in rich countries have long plagued the international trading system and currently make it difficult to move forward with further trade liberalization. Rich countries are reluctant to improve access to their most protected markets.
With high food prices, subsidies are less compelling and—depending on how they are structured—may not even pay out when prices are above a certain level, Johnson writes.
Industrial countries need to seize this moment and eliminate subsidies in such a way that it is hard to reimpose them later.
Johnson cites the example of the European Union's 'impressive step forward' in terms of export subsidies for milk. With milk at record-high prices this year, these subsidies have been suspended. Given the nature of decision making over agricultural policy, reinstating such subsidies might be difficult.

More recently, the EU also decided to abandon a subsidy for energy crops.

Hat tip to Jeff!

Simon Johnson, "The (Food) Price of Success", Finance & Development, December 2007, Volume 44, Number 4.

Research Recap: "Biofuels Could Help Cut Farm Subsidies" - December 5, 2007.

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South Africa approves biofuels plan: 2% by 2013, maize excluded

After months of negotiations and intense lobbying by different sectors, South Africa has approved its long awaited biofuels plan. The country will aim to have biofuels account for 2 percent of its total fuel production by 2013 but will exclude the staple maize as a source. Compared to most other sub-Saharan African countries, South Africa an extremely small per capita potential for the production of biofuels and thus has to be far more careful in setting targets.

The biofuels strategy was developed in response to concerns over fuel supply security and volatile international crude oil prices. South Africa meets about 36 percent of domestic liquid fuels demand by the production of synthetic fuels made from coal - a technique that releases large amounts of greenhouse gases. The remaining 64 percent is refined locally from imported crude oil.

The new strategy envisages a pilot phase for biofuel production starting next year, with the 2013 target revised downward from an initial draft proposal of 4.5 percent.

According to Minerals and Energy Minister Buyelwa Sonjica, the revision expresses consideration of agricultural concerns, adding that maize would not be used for the development of biofuel in the initial stages of the plan, due to food security concerns. Maize is a staple food source for the majority of the poor in the country.

The decision to exclude maize comes a day after local farmers’ representative body Grain SA said that using the grain to produce biofuels would create new markets for farmers and utilise South Africa’s unused land:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The government's biofuels plan only takes into account first generation biofuels made from easily extractibe oil and sugars. Soya beans, canola and sunflower would be used for biodiesel production, and sugar cane and sugar beet for ethanol.

As an incentive, the fuel levy exemption on biodiesel will increase from 40 to 50 percent, while bioethanol will enjoy a 100 percent exemption.

The plan does not include any details about possible biofuel imports. South Africa's neighboring countries all have a very large potential for biofuels.

South Africa aims for 2.0 percent biofuels production by 2013
- December 6, 2007.

The Times: SA approves biofuels plan - December 6, 2007.

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US National Renewable Energy Lab aims to cut GHG emissions by 75% with solar and biomass

The U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has pledged to reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions by 75 percent from 2005 to 2009 - an ambitious goal, but one that does not come as a surprise given that the NREL is America's leading research lab focused on renewables. The new target is part of NREL's participation in the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Climate Leaders program and was announced at the Climate Leaders meeting in Boulder, Colorado yesterday.

To achieve its new goal, NREL will install two major on-site renewable energy projects:
  • solar cells on a five acre site will provide approximately 7 percent of the Laboratory’s electric needs
  • a biomass combustion plant fueled by forest thinnings and other waste wood will offset the need for about 75 percent of the natural gas used to heat the Laboratory's research buildings
In addition, NREL is planning to make its buildings more energy efficient through a site-wide energy savings performance contract. The Laboratory also will purchase renewable energy certificates (RECs) to offset all of its indirect emissions from electricity use and from Laboratory operations such as employee commuting and business travel.

NREL already reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent per square foot from 2000 to 2005 as one of the seven original Climate Leaders participants that set goals and met them.
I am fully convinced that our mission is both enabled and enhanced by our leadership in sustainability. The employees of NREL are committed to incorporating sustainable principles in our work, and we encourage application of these same principles by our stakeholders. Through our actions we can establish a new benchmark for what is possible. - Dan Arvizu, NREL Director
NREL’s participation in Climate Leaders is a key part of the environmental stewardship activities of its Sustainable NREL program, which is responsible for leading the planning, development and implementation of the Laboratory’s comprehensive suite of sustainability activities. As a national laboratory, NREL actively shares its experiences with other national laboratories, federal and state agencies and other interested stakeholders:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::
NREL places tremendous importance on the need to maintain a sustainable environment in our own workplace. We believe that our Laboratory should use minimal resources while receiving the maximum value from those resources we do use by balancing environmental, economic, and human impacts. - Bob Westby, manager of NREL’s Federal Energy Management Program and Sustainable NREL lead
Climate Leaders is an EPA industry-government partnership that works with companies to develop comprehensive climate change strategies. Partner companies commit to reducing their impact on the global environment by completing a corporate-wide inventory of their greenhouse gas emissions based on a quality management system, setting aggressive reduction goals, and annually reporting their progress to EPA. Through program participation, companies create a credible record of their accomplishments and receive EPA recognition as corporate environmental leaders.

The lab
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is America's primary laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development (R&D).

NREL's mission and strategy are focused on advancing the U.S. Department of Energy's and our nation's energy goals. The laboratory's scientists and researchers support critical market objectives to accelerate research from scientific innovations to market-viable alternative energy solutions. At the core of this strategic direction are NREL's research and technology development areas. These areas span from understanding renewable resources for energy, to the conversion of these resources to renewable electricity and fuels, and ultimately to the use of renewable electricity and fuels in homes, commercial buildings, and vehicles. The laboratory thereby directly contributes to our nation's goal for finding new renewable ways to power our homes, businesses, and cars.

R&D Expertise

NREL's focused R&D capabilities are positioned to advance national energy goals by developing innovations to change the way we power our homes and businesses, and fuel our cars. Our R&D capabilities allow us to develop and advance renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies more effectively through the full R&D life-cycle—from basic scientific research through applied research and engineering; to testing, scale-up, and demonstration. NREL's R&D areas of expertise are Renewable electricity, Renewable fuelIntegrated energy system engineering and testing, Strategic energy analysis.

Technology Transfer
A critical part of the Lab's mission is the transfer of NREL-developed technologies to renewable energy markets. NREL's Technology Transfer Office supports laboratory scientists and engineers in the successful and practical application of their expertise and the technologies they develop. NREL's world-class R&D staff and facilities are recognized and valued by industry, as demonstrated through hundreds of collaborative research projects and licensed technologies with public and private partners. NREL's innovative technologies have also been recognized with 39 R&D 100 awards — the most per staff member of any DOE laboratory. The engineering and science behind these technology transfer successes and awards demonstrates NREL's commitment to developing and applying innovative renewable energy solutions for the nation's secure and sustainable energy future.

Bioenergy research
To develop technology for the cost-effective conversion of biomass to fuels, power and chemicals, NREL biomass researchers have developed strong capabilities in all facets of biomass conversion technology to support the production of fuels, power, and chemicals from biomass.

The Biomass Program supports NREL R&D that focuses on biomass characterization, thermochemical and biochemical biomass conversion technologies, biobased products development, and biomass process engineering and analysis. NREL also works to develop cost-effective, environmentally friendly biomass conversion technologies to reduce our nation's dependence on foreign oil, improve our air quality, and support rural economies.

The Biomass Program also works with the National Bioenergy Center, which was established to coordinate the nation's biomass research activities. NREL supports the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Biomass Program.

: inside one of the bioenergy research facilities at the NREL: Credit: NREL.

NREL: Energy Lab Sets Aggressive Greenhouse Gas Reduction Goal - December 4, 2007.

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