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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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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The bioeconomy at work: bamboo bridge carries 8-ton trucks

Biomass can not only be used to replace fossil fuels, but also as a durable green material in which atmospheric carbon dioxide remains sequestered in the form of carbon. The resource is finding exciting applications, ranging from biomass ash from power plants to make concrete, to utilizing natural fibers for the construction of 'green roads', or the creation of bioplastic pipelines that beat their petroleum-based rivals in strength.

From China and California comes an interesting example demonstrating the strength of lignin-rich biomass, in this case bamboo. In China the tall, versatile, strong grass has been used for ages to make furniture, artwork, building scaffolding, and panels for concrete casting. But now, a demonstration project shows it can even be used to make modern truck bridges capable of carrying 8 tons and more.

Yan Xiao, a professor at the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering is the designer of the new span in the village of Leiyang, Hunan Province, which formally opens for traffic today (December 12).

Made from pre-fabricated structural elements, the biocomposite bridge was erected within a week by a team of eight workers without heavy construction equipment. While traffic on the Leiyang bridge will be limited to the 8-ton design capacity, preliminary tests on a duplicate bridge erected on the campus of Hunan University have shown much higher strength - tests are continuing.

Such a bridge made of local materials cuts production costs and time, requires far less energy to make over its lifecycle (compared to bridges made out of steel, concrete and asphalt) and, best of all, it doesn't result in greenhouse gas emissions. At the end of its life, the biocomposites can be recycled or used as an energy source:
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The new bridge is the latest installment in research on structural bamboo being carried on by Xiao, who in addition to his appointment at the USC Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Enviornmental Engineering holds an appointment at the College of Civil Engineering of the Hunan University, China.

Last year, Xiao demonstrated a high capacity bamboo footbridge, which was a featured attraction at a recent conference organized by Xioa in Changsha, China.

Prof Xiao expects his modern bamboo bridge technology to be widely used in pedestrian crossing, in a large number of bridges in rural areas in China, as a environmental friendly and sustainable construction material. Besides bridges, Xiao's team has also built a mobile house using similar technology they developed.

The demonstration project offers hope for applications in the tropics, where bamboo can be found in abundance, but where transport infrastructures are often lacking. This lack is a key factor in rural poverty. Especially in Central-Africa, there is a great need for durable bridges that can be assembled quickly and withstand the heavy rainy seasons so that farmers can bring their products to market via tertiary and secondary roads.

Images: picture 1, bamboo forest in Southern China; picture 2, underside view of the 10 meter long bamboo test bridge on Hunan University campus; picture 3, the 10 meter long modern bamboo bridge under construction; picture 4, the bridge under 8 ton traffic loading testing. Credit: Yan Xiao, USC Viterbii School of Engineering.

University of Southern California: Truck-safe bamboo bridge opens in China - December 12, 2007.

Biopact: The bioeconomy at work: buildings made of biomass ash? - May 17, 2007

Biopact: Green roads: engineers investigate biofuel co-product lignin for use in road construction - October 16, 2007

Biopact: The bioeconomy at work: robust bioplastic used for off-shore oil riser pipes - April 18, 2007

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Principle Capital raises $70 million for sugarcane ethanol plant in 'biofuel superpower' Mozambique

UK-based Fund manager Principle Capital Holdings SA announces it has raised $70 million towards a $290 million Mozambique bioethanol plant expected to come onstream in 2011. The project, aimed at producing the lowest-cost biofuel, is undertaken by its newly launched group company Principle Energy Ltd (PEL). A subsequent equity fundraising of about $90 million is expected to be combined with an IPO, with the remaining $130 million to be raised as loans from banks who have shown interest. Investment in biofuels in Mozambique - a typical African 'biofuel superpower' in the making - now stands at more than $1 billion this year.

Principle, listed on London's AIM, raised the money from a group of hedge funds to start a sugar cane plantation of more than 20,000 hectares in the central region of Mozambique that will provide feedstock for the plant. According to the company, the facility will rank in the top five bioethanol plants in the world in terms of production. The plant will have a capacity 100 million liters of bioethanol a year. PEL is rolling out the programme over the next 4-5 years.

Yields 50% higher than Brazilian cane
Sugar cane is the best feedstock to produce first generation ethanol because of the very efficient way in which it can be turned into both liquid fuels as well as in bioenergy. Besides ethanol, bagasse is produced as an abunndant byproduct, which is utilized to generate renewable and carbon-neutral power. This makes sugarcane based biofuels highly efficient in terms of reducing carbon dioxide (80% less CO2 than gasoline), as well as giving it a very strong energy balance (between 8 and 10 to 1 - more here).

Interestingly, cane yields in Mozambique are expected to be over 50 percent higher than the Brazilian average, due to a better quality of soils, a more suitable climate and full irrigation. Brazil is the world leader in ethanol production from sugarcane making the most efficient and environmentally friendly biofuel currently available.

The new plant, to be built near Dombe town, about 200 km (125 miles) west of Beira port in the Sofala Province, will serve biofuels markets in Europe and North America and will be exempt from tariffs under European and U.S. trade agreements. It will truck bioethanol to Beira and ship the fuel to its markets in bulk tankers - a highly efficient operation. The investment would create 2,500-4,000 jobs:
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The project has already received approval at provincial level, and an application for the final go-ahead from the central government is expected to receive the green light before the end of January. Feasibility modelling was completed and independently verified by industry experts in July 2007.

Principle Capital has assembled a team of experts to manage the project, including Paul Zorner, Chief Technology Officer, who was the former Chief Scientist for Dow Chemical's Global Biotechnology platform and Richard Hurly, Chief Operating Officer, an agronomist with extensive experience on large scale Southern African agricultural projects, particularly working with South Africa's Industrial Development Corporation (IDC). In addition it has engaged three major project partners, to manage the engineering, agricultural and chemical aspects of the project.

Principle Capital has also established a subsidiary company called Principle Energy Management Services Limited ("PEMS"), which has entered into a five year management contract with PEL, pursuant to which it is entitled to management and performance fees from PEL. Principle Capital Partners Limited, a subsidiary of the Company, has been granted warrants to subscribe for new shares in PEL, which will be utilised to incentivise those involved in PEL's projects as well as to benefit the Principle Capital group. Principle Capital is investing $5m in PEL.

Mozambique has recently agreed other major biofuels investments and is seen as a typical African 'biofuel superpower' in the making. The country has an abundance of land - it only utilizes 5% of its potential arable land - and an excellent climate for a range of high yielding energy crops. Its short term sustainable potential bioenergy production capacity (that is production after meeting all food, fuel, fiber, fodder and forest product needs of local populations, without deforestation) is estimated at around 7 Exajoules, roughly the equivalent of 1.14 billion barrels of oil (3.14 million barrels per day).

Mozambique, a nation of 21 million mainly rural citizens, currently only consumes around 11,500 barrels of oil equivalent per day (2004 estimate), which means it can easily reach full oil independence and begin to supply world markets.

A case study on Mozambique's sustainable exportable bioenergy potential, written by scientists working for the International Energy Agency's Bioenergy Task 40 can be found here and in the article "Biomass and bioenergy supply from Mozambique" [*abstract / *.pdf]. This summer, Mozambique's Minister of Energy sketched his country's resources during a the EU's landmark international conference on biofuels; his presentation can be found here [*.pdf] and also see our own reporting on the conference.

Earlier this month (December 6-8) the country's Ministry of Agriculture organised a high level meeting to discuss Mozambique's biofuel policies and strategies. During the gathering, special attention was given to biofuel trade as it relates to the opportunities offered by the EU's biofuels targets, and on desiging robust policy frameworks to ensure that Mozambique's resources are exploited in the most sustainable and efficient way. (Biopact was invited to attend the meeting, but sadly couldn't do so. For those interested in the program, please contact us).

In October, Mozambique signed a $510 million deal with London-listed Central African Mining & Exploration Company Plc (CAMEC) to build a plant to produce 120 million litres of ethanol a year by 2010 (previous post).

In August, state-owned Mozambican Petroleum Co. (PETROMOC) unveiled a $408 million biofuels project aimed at easing an energy crunch in the fast-growing southern African nation (more here).

London Stock Exchange: Principle Cap Hldngs - Launch of Principle Energy - December 11, 2007.

Reuters Africa: Fund raises $70 mln for Mozambique biofuel plant - December 11, 2007.

Biopact: Mozambique signs ethanol mega-deal: $510 million, 30,000 hectares of sugarcane - October 22, 2007

Biopact: Mozambique's Petromoc seeks to invest $408 million in biofuels - August 30, 2007

Biopact: Brazilian ethanol is sustainable and has a very positive energy balance - IEA report - October 08, 2006

Biopact: Journal "Energy for Sustainable Development" focuses on international bioenergy trade - November 05, 2006

Salvador Namburete: Mozambique's Experience on Bio-fuels [*.pdf], Minister of Energy of the Republic of Mozambique, presentation at the International Conference on Biofuels, Brussels, July 5-6, 2007.

Batidzirai, B., A.P.C. Faaij, E.M.W. Smeets (2006), "Biomass and bioenergy supply from Mozambique" [*abstract / *.pdf], Energy for Sustainable Development, X(1), Pp. 54-81

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Xcel Energy awards $23 million to 22 renewable energy projects - focus on biomass and solar

Minneapolis based Xcel Energy announces that twenty-two proposed renewable energy projects featuring biomass, biofuel, wind, hydroelectric and solar technologies have been selected to receive nearly $23 million from its Renewable Development Fund.

An advisory board with representation from Xcel Energy, environmental groups, Xcel Energy customers and the Prairie Island Indian Community recommended to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission that $8,223,922 be awarded to projects for energy production and $14,397,817 for research and development.

According to Mike Bull, assistant commissioner of renewable development and advanced technologies, Minnesota Department of Commerce, and Renewable Development Fund advisory board member, this round of grants appropriately focuses on the goal of making biomass and solar resources more cost-effectively available for Xcel Energy customers

Nearly 100 renewable energy proposals were reviewed during the current funding cycle. In previous cycles, more than $52 million has been awarded for renewable energy research and renewable energy production. Currently, more than 23 megawatts of renewable energy are under development from fund initiatives.

The following bioenergy production and R&D projects receive funding:
  • American Crystal Sugar Co., a coopertive based in Moorhead, Minn., to design, develop and construct a 3-megawatt electricity cogeneration plant utilizing methane, which currently is produced as a result of sugar beet processing. The cogeneration facility will be integrated with the company’s current biogas collection system, $2 million.
  • University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, N.D., to test and develop a novel biotechnology additive to convert biomass into biogas, $970,558.
  • University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, to evaluate and address economic and technical issues related to biomass integrated gasification combined cycle technology in electricity generation at ethanol-producing plants, $819,159.
  • Coaltec Energy USA Inc., Carterville, Ill., to prove the feasibility of biomass gasification (using turkey manure and agricultural waste) in a commercial turkey farm setting to generate electricity and heat, $1 million.
  • University of Minnesota, Morris, Minn., to provide biomass fuel stock suppliers with accurate guidelines for management of biomass harvesting and maintenance of soil quality, $979,082.
  • University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, to develop an efficient system for the production, pre-processing and delivery of biomass feedstock for energy production that minimizes feedstock cost for energy facilities, while maximizing landowner income and the environmental benefits of biomass production, $992,989.
  • Community Power Corp., Littleton, Colo., to adapt current proven modular biopower technology to produce and demonstrate a biomass/natural gas hybrid (dual fuel) power generation system. The system will integrate with on-site electrical and thermal loads to deliver electricity and heat, $999,926.
  • University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, N.D., to demonstrate the performance of a mobile integrated indirect wet biomass liquefaction system gasifier at one-fourth commercial scale, $999,065.
  • Minnesota Valley Alfalfa Producers, Raymond, Minn., to research the application of a new energy-efficient technology to process a variety of biomass feedstock to expand the resource options for biomass energy production, $1 million.
  • Bepex International LLC, Minneapolis, to examine, evaluate and reduce the capital and operating costs of utilizing a thermo-chemical biomass pretreatment regime, called “torrefaction.” Biomass used will be corn stover with the resulting product densified into briquettes for electricity generation, $924,671.
  • University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, N.D., to develop an economical biomass power system by combining previous bench scale work in thermally integrated gasification systems with developmental work on a low-Btu gas turbine, $999,728.
  • SarTec Corp., Anoka, Minn., to use solar energy, photosynthesis and rapid growth algae to capture carbon dioxide from flue gas and produce lipids that can be transformed into the renewable biodiesel fuel, $350,000.
Other projects funded include research and development of thin film solar, battery storage, geothermal technologies and a wind resource simulator:
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Money for the Renewable Development Fund, which was created in 1999, comes from Xcel Energy customers. Each year the company transfers $16 million to the fund in accordance with state statute. Owners of energy production projects sell the energy to Xcel Energy or use the energy themselves. All selected projects are subject to final approval by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.

The Renewable Development Fund provides research support for marketable advancement of innovative renewable energy and environmental technologies that will benefit Minnesota customers as well as promote renewable energy within the region, nationally, and worldwide, said Bill Grant, associate executive director, Izaak Walton League, and Renewable Development Fund advisory board member.

Xcel Energy is an integrated electricity and natural gas energy company, offering a comprehensive portfolio of energy-related products and services to 3.3 million electricity customers and 1.8 million natural gas customers. The company has regulated operations in 8 Western and Midwestern states, and revenue of more than $9 billion annually. It owns more than 34,500 miles of natural gas pipelines.

Xcel Energy: Xcel Energy announces renewable energy project selections - December 5, 2007.

Xcel Energy: Renewable Development Fund.

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Sony goes green with 16GWh of bioenergy; targets 4-fold CO2 reduction by 2010

As part of its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Sony Corporation is actively promoting the use of renewables across Sony Group companies in Japan and around the world. The electronics giant announces it has agreed a contract to purchase 16 million kWh of biomass energy per year to green its facilities in Japan. In 2006, the widespread implementation of renewable energy across the Sony Group helped reduce its CO2 emissions by approximately 13,000 tons worldwide. Sony will continue to advance its use of renewable energy, with the aim of increasing its contribution to CO2 reduction approximately fourfold to 50,000 tons through 2010 (compared to 2006).

In Japan, Sony Group companies have used the 'Green Power Certification System', jointly established by Sony and a the Japan Natural Energy Company, to purchase renewable energy generated at distantly located facilities since 2001. In October 2007, Sony agreed the contract to annually purchase an additional 16 million kWh of wood biomass energy. Combined with its existing contracts, the annual amount of renewable energy now purchased by the Sony Group in Japan amounts to 36.4 million kWh, making it Japan's largest buyer of renewable energy under this system. Bioenergy accounts for more than half of this amount.

Sony began introducing renewable energy at its overseas offices and sites 2002, and in November this year, converted its two Austrian sites to entirely renewable energy sources. Consequently, a total of nine European sites are now fully powered by renewable energy, representing 41% of Sony's total energy consumption in Europe.

Sony DADC (Digital Audio Disc Corporation) Austria (optical disc production facility), as well as Sony Austria (sales company) shifted their entire energy supply to hydropower this year. As a result, the 59 million kWh of energy purchased by the two facilities will now be from entirely renewable sources, representing an annual contribution to CO2 reduction of approximately 11,000 tons.

Sony will continue to implement wide-ranging measures to increase its use of renewable energy sources and promote energy conservation, and will aim to further reduce its greenhouse gas emissions through these efforts.

In October this year, Sony signed an agreement to purchase 16 million kWh of biomass renewable energy. Together with its existing contract for 15.5 million kWh of bioenergy per year, Sony is now purchasing a total of 31.5 million kWh of green energy per year under the 'Green Power Certification System'.

This latest agreement has been reached with Noshiro Forestry Resource Utilization Cooperative (Akita Prefecture), for energy generated using their wood biomass power facility. Established in February 2003, this facility generates approximately 20 million kWh of electric power per year. Under the agreement, Sony will receive an annual supply of 16 million kWh of electricity from this facility:
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This energy is then used by Sony Group companies across Japan: Sony Corp. utilizes 31.5 million kWh, Sony Group Companies in Japan will rely on 4.9 million kWh (with Hall Network Inc. greening its operations with 2.7 million kWh), Music ON ITV Inc. draws on 700,000 kWh, and Sony Enterprise Co., Ltd will utilize 1.5 million kWh.

In total, Sony Group companies in Japan have now agreed contracts for the supply of 36.4 million kWh of renewable energy in fiscal 2007, equivalent to the reduction of approximately 13,760 tons in CO2 emissions.

Sony Corporation is a leading manufacturer of audio, video, game, communications, key device and information technology products for the consumer and professional markets. With its music, pictures, computer entertainment and on-line businesses, Sony is uniquely positioned to be the leading personal broadband entertainment company in the world. Sony recorded consolidated annual sales of approximately $70 billion for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2007.

The Japan Natural EnergyCompany's Green Power Certification System is a scheme to encourage corporate and other customers to use natural energy as one of their voluntary measures for energy conservation and environmental protection under an arrangement that environmental value added, such as the energy-saving (fossil fuel conservation) and CO2 emission-reducing effects of electricity generated with renewable energy sources, be materialized in the form of a Certificate of Green Power.

Hat tip to Jean-Jacques!


Sony Global: Sony Advances its Use of Renewable Energy Sources; Targets Fourfold Contribution to CO2 Reduction by Fiscal 2010 - December 5, 2007.

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AAS director-general looks at pros and cons of biofuels for developing countries

In June of this year, Dr. Shem Arungu Olende, secretary-general of the African Academy Of Sciences, delivered a lecture on the benefits and risks of biofuels for developing countries at a Kenya National Academy of Sciences workshop in Nairobi. In it, he writes that biofuels offer 'huge potential', but pose challenges best countered with strong and coherent development policies.

In the lecture, Arungu Olende focuses on first-generation biofuels only, while the development of the next generation, which uses any type of biomass, is meanwhile making progress. The text is part of SciDev's dossier on the science and technology challenges in developing countries that wish to participate in the biofuels sector.

Global production of biofuels is growing steadily and will continue to do so, the secretary-general writes. Biofuels offer greater energy security, reduced emissions of greenhouse gases and particulates, rural development, better vehicle performance, and reduced demand for petroleum.

But they also raise pressing issues that need addressing before biofuels become widespread around the world, and in Africa in particular. These relate to land requirements and availability, policies, knowledge, standards, awareness, participation and investment.

Africa has relatively little biofuel development, except in South Africa, and more information on the few activities that are underway is urgently needed.

Across the world, but particularly in Africa, policymakers and researchers need to:
  • better understand how biomass production affects food production; and
  • identify suitable feedstock for biofuels
  • research the most appropriate production and processing procedures, environmental impacts and the potential for domestic, regional and international trade in biofuels.
Biofuels offer many benefits. By reducing demand for petroleum, biofuels could make energy supply more secure. Their use would also reduce import bills for energy-deficient countries and offer improved balance of trade and balance of payments. All these developments would unfreeze scarce resources for other pressing needs.

Emissions of greenhouse gases, carbon monoxide and particulates could all be significantly reduced. And biofuels also improve vehicle performance — biodiesel lubricity actually extends the life of diesel engines.

There are potential benefits for agricultural and rural development, including new jobs and income generation, which would undoubtedly help meet the Millennium Development Goals:
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Moreover, the move to biofuels will create new industries and bring increased economic activity. It should also provide opportunities for carbon trading for many African countries.

Biofuels are renewable, and bioethanol and biodiesel are clean burning. Importantly, they may be easier to commercialise than other alternatives because they can be stored and distributed using existing infrastructure.

Biofuels should have a significant role in climate change policies, and this will certainly open up opportunities for biofuel development in developing countries, including Africa.

The situation in Africa
Worldwide, there have been major strides in producing and using biofuels, especially in Brazil, China, India and the United States. Yet there has been relatively little action in Africa, except for South Africa.

Countries growing sugarcane, mainly for sugar production, could with minimum effort either expand their activities in bioethanol production or initiate bioethanol production projects. These include Angola, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Of these, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, South Africa and Zimbabwe have all at one time or other used bioethanol as a transport or domestic fuel.

The potential for increasing ethanol production from African sugarcane is high; it is simply a question of redefining strategies to factor in large-scale ethanol production for domestic use, and in the longer run, for export.

Several factors will determine the economics of moving to biofuels, including economies of scale and national policies for using ethanol in transport.

Africa's biofuel activities are concentrated in South Africa, where a 'white paper' has been prepared for government discussion. It proposes government actions and investment opportunities to foster biofuel development. Bio-diesel One, a South African company, has installed a test processor and has shown that a blend of five per cent biodiesel and 95 per cent petroleum diesel improves engine performance, offers enhanced lubricity and some reduction in emissions. Other projects include a 45,000 hectare nursery with an initial planting of four million jatropha curcas trees, the seeds of which will be used to produce biodiesel.

In Kenya, the government plans cooperation with Japan to produce biofuels.

In central Ghana, Ghana Bio-Energy Ltd is constructing a plant for processing jatropha oil into biodiesel.

Malawi's biodiesel association has contracts for a jatropha curcas planting programme, while Uganda plans to be the first African country to operate a biodiesel plant, with an estimated investment of $30 million. The project is the brainchild of BIDCO Refineries Ltd, which operates a vegetable oil plant in Jinja.

Pitfalls to avoid
Before biofuels become widespread, we must tackle several pressing issues. Biofuels still need research to identify suitable feedstocks, the most appropriate production and processing procedures, environmental impacts, potential land use conflict with food crops, and international trade opportunities.

Land requirements and availability
Producing biofuels on a large scale could require huge tracts of land. Many countries cannot afford to divert land away from food production.

The 'food versus fuel' controversy is complex. Food and biomass require the same resources for production — land, water and agrochemicals. Food and fuel need not necessarily compete, particularly when there is careful planning for ecological conservation and sustainable production methods. But the real situation is less clear cut.

Worldwide, many studies on land availability give wide-ranging results, depending on their data sources and assumptions. And I am not aware of any such studies in individual African countries.

Policy issues
Few countries have comprehensive biofuel policies, and where present, they are often driven largely by agricultural considerations. Policies are urgently required to:
capture a wide spectrum of activities involving energy, environment, land use, land-use change, forestry, agriculture, water resources, transport; and address the economic, social and environmental implications of widespread production, use and trade in biofuels. Successful policy development and implementation requires a robust legal, regulatory and institutional framework. Legislation would guide regulation, management and development of biofuels by creating an administrative framework and procedures for managing projects and programmes.

Informed and effective policymaking needs reliable data and information. Information is most useful when it has been painstakingly collected, processed and analysed, and for biofuels, relevant information from the transportation, forestry, energy, agriculture, and environment sectors will be required. We still need to develop accurate ways to estimate and project biofuel demand in domestic and global markets.

Certainly, information on biofuel demand in African countries is inadequate. So is knowledge of biofuel resources and production, including the most appropriate feedstocks — all of which are critical in formulating a viable policy. These must be properly assessed. This could be done by developing a resource database and building the capacity to manage such a database.

Another factor limiting biofuel development and trade is the lack of standards for the sector in Africa, and indeed in many countries elsewhere in the world. There are no international standards either, making it difficult for biofuels to reach the global market.

Awareness and participation
Experience from a number of countries shows that active government involvement is important for developing biofuel programmes. Valuable lessons can be drawn from Germany, Brazil and the United States.

Germany has become a leader in high-technology biofuel production, due to strong government commitment, viable policy and solid collaboration from the private sector. This positive environment has in turn unleashed innovation.

The United States, too, has been active for some time. Congress and a number of States have provided robust support for biofuel development.

So has Brazil, especially for bioethanol. Biofuels are near the top of development agenda in the country.

But despite these lessons, African countries will still need to consider their own situations, since the experiences of others may not be easily replicable where conditions may differ.

Large-scale biofuel development needs financial resources. Worldwide, interest in biofuels is certainly growing, which will hopefully spur investments.

Many developing countries could obtain funding from international financial institutions and regional and sub-regional development banks. Other development partners are also ready to participate in viable projects.

But a crucial first step will be government action to create a favourable environment for domestic, as well as international, investors. Initiatives must forge partnerships between the public and private sectors.

Scientific prospects
Worldwide, large-scale production of biofuels is growing fast. Further research and developments are expected in several areas: continuous fermentation and immobilised cells; developing organisms with increased tolerance to alcohols, wider substrate ranges and higher temperatures; and lower energy requirements for recovery of alcohols. In some regions with high agricultural productivity and no petroleum resources, carbohydrates are already converted into alcohols. This trend will probably become more widespread over the coming decades with technical progress.

Producing ethanol by breaking down cellulosic materials, such as switch-grass or fast-growing trees like hybrid poplars, with enzymes is promising. And work is also underway to genetically modify crops and plants for higher energy yields.

Big challenges in world energy
Energy's critical importance in socio-economic development and environmental protection is now universally recognised. But the way energy is used currently is unsustainable. The challenge facing the international community is how best to move towards developing and using energy sustainably.

The potential contribution of renewable energy sources and technologies, particularly in developing countries, is high. A number of factors have hindered their development — including inadequate policies and limited access to existing technologies and investments. Development must now be speeded up to help solve the critical issue of inadequate primary energy sources in many areas.

We must encourage massive investments in energy resource development and use, and put in place mechanisms to build capacity in the energy sector.

: jatropha farmer in Mali. Credit: ICRISAT.

SciDev: Biofuels: benefits and risks for developing countries - December 5, 2007.

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Diversified Energy wins DoD contract for portable renewable synfuel plant

Diversified Energy Corporation (DEC) and Velocys Inc. have been selected by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to design a portable renewable fuel production system based on DEC’s breakthrough HydroMax gasification technology and Velocys’ advanced Fischer-Tropsch approach. The goal of the DoD funded effort is to develop a transportable system that can convert waste products generated at military installations into 50 – 500 barrels per day of high performance renewable fuels such as diesel and aviation fuel. The technologies are the same as those used for the production of synthetic biofuels (biomass-to-liquids) that can be made from any type of cellulosic biomass.

The development of portable, small-scale biomass-to-liquids (BtL) plants that yield ultra-clean synthetic biofuels would be a major breakthrough that could unlock the large potential of cellulosic biomass. It would considerably improve the logistics of next-generation biofuels by allowing producers to decentralise production. Decentralisation consists of placing facilities near abundant biomass sources, instead of transporting bulky feedstocks to a central facility.

DoD is the single largest fuel consumer in the United States, with an annual fuel budget of approximately $9 Billion and rising. Forward operating military bases generate scores of waste material and have an enormous demand for fuel products. As a result, an opportunity exists to incorporate advanced energy conversion technologies that can utilize waste materials to generate high performance fuels; thereby, reducing the logistical burden of fuel transportation for military operations. These benefits will ultimately result in lower military operating costs and markedly improved energy security for the DoD.

DEC’s HydroMax gasification technology, under license from Alchemix Corporation, will be used to convert waste products (biomass, solid-waste, etc.) into a synthetic gas (syngas). The Velocys fuel synthesis technology will then convert the syngas from HydroMax into diesel and jet fuel that can be utilized for a wide variety of military applications. This DOD Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) Phase I project will include bench-scale test data analysis, conceptual design of a transportable fuel production system, economic analysis, and a detailed assessment of system modularity and transportability.

Utilizing an iron/tin molten metal based reactor, the HydroMax system produces both carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen (H2) in separate and distinct streams from the reactor. These streams can be used to create electricity in turbines, produce transportation fuels or chemicals through various synthesis processes, or deliver high-quality hydrogen for a multitude of applications:
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HydroMax differs substantially from traditional gasification technologies, whose basic approach is to create synthetic gas by partially combusting coal in an oxygen-starved environment - a technique which has seen little change since its inception in the late 18th century. By leveraging proven processes from the metals and mining industries, the HydroMax technique intends to break the status-quo paradigm by delivering gasification systems at up to 50% the cost of traditional systems, with 80+% efficiency, and demonstrating high availability.

Using two distinct steps (schematic, click to enlarge), the HydroMax process begins with a molten iron/tin (FeSn) bath heated to 1300° C. In Step A, steam is injected into the bath which is then thermo-chemically split resulting in H2 gas (released) and oxidized iron. After the Fe is oxidized, steam injection ceases and a carbon source (coal, petroleum coke, tires, biomass, etc) is injected into the reactor (Step B). Carbon has a high affinity to oxygen and reduces the oxidation of Fe to its pure form and produces a CO-rich syngas which is released for use.

Diversified Energy and its partners are working to execute on a research and development plan to validate the operational and economic benefits of the system. The company is spending its own resources and engaging with the government to conduct a series of hardware tests aimed at commercializing HydroMax as quickly as possible.
Working with Diversified Energy on this critical DoD fuel project is ideal for Velocys as our technology integrates nicely with DEC’s HydroMax gasification approach. Our gas-to-liquids technology is one-tenth that of conventional systems and, as a result, we are able to achieve the transportability objective outlined by the DoD. - Jeff McDaniel, Velocys Business Development Manager
At the conclusion of the Phase I SBIR effort, the Diversified Energy/Velocys team will compete for a Phase II project that will fund development of a prototype integrated fuel production system.

Headquartered in Gilbert, Arizona, Diversified Energy Corporation () is a privately held alternative and renewable energy company focused on maturing innovative technologies, developing commercial energy projects, and providing engineering services support to project developers. Principal areas of expertise include gasification, biofuels, and algae production.

Velocys, Inc. is developing microchannel technology that transforms critical aspects of energy, chemicals and biofuels production. Velocys, a subsidiary of Battelle Memorial Institute, was launched in 2001 and has developed a portfolio of 70 patents and received $100 million of investment from industry leading partners, including Dow Chemical, ABB and Total S.A. Velocys is headquartered near Plain City, Ohio.


Diversified Energy: Hydromax brochure [*.pdf].

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