<body> --------------
Contact Us       Consulting       Projects       Our Goals       About Us
home / Archive
Nature Blog Network

    Oxford Catalysts has placed an order worth approximately €700,000 (US$1 million) with the German company Amtec for the purchase of two Spider16 high throughput screening reactors. The first will be used to speed up the development of catalysts for hydrodesulphurisation (HDS). The second will be used to further the development of catalysts for use in gas to liquid (GTL) and Fischer-Tropsch processes which can be applied to next generation biofuels. AlphaGalileo - December 18, 2007.

    According to the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE), Brazil's production of sugarcane will increase from 514,1 million tonnes this season, to a record 561,8 million tonnes in the 2008/09 cyclus - an increase of 9.3%. New numbers are also out for the 2007 harvest in Brazil's main sugarcane growing region, the Central-South: a record 425 million tonnes compared to 372,7 million tonnes in 2006, or a 14% increase. The estimate was provided by Unica – the União da Indústria de Cana-de-Açúcar. Jornal Cana - December 16, 2007.

    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.

Creative Commons License

Friday, December 14, 2007

Moss genome sequenced: shows how aquatic plants adapted to dry land - key to development of drought-tolerant energy crops, cellulosic biofuels

An international team of 70 scientists from over 40 institutions, led by the U.S. Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute, announces it has sequenced the genome of a dainty yet ephemeral moss, providing scientists with keys to the genetic changes that allowed aquatic plants to venture onto land. The newly discovered, ancient genes for tolerance to desiccation may aid researchers seeking to develop drought-tolerant bioenergy crops that can be grown in arid zones, the scientists say. The sequencing of the moss genome - the first nonvascular land plant to be sequenced - is the highlight of Science magazine's latest rapid online publication Science Express and will be printed in Science in January 2008.

The JGI is an international collaboration uniting some of the world's leading scientists who are working to sequence the genomes of energy crops, microorganisms, algae, and other plants that will contribute to a science-driven bioenergy future that helps solve the planet's unfolding climate and energy crisis.

The new genome library of the moss offers a wealth of opportunities for new insights into plant genes and their functions and the molecular mechanisms involved in plant cell wall synthesis and assembly. This is so because the moss in question - Physcomitrella patens - is a model organism for the study of plant biology. New insights into the plant cell wall - the main component of terrestrial biomass - could unlock the key to cellulosic biofuels, which are based on breaking the cell wall down, the scientists say.

Some 400 million years ago, on a lifeless lakeshore lapped by waves, floating algae learned to survive in the open air and launched an invasion that transformed the Earth into a green paradise. The secrets of these first steps onto land are now being revealed thanks to the sequencing of a modern descendent of these first land dwellers, the dainty Physcomitrella patens that sprouts on recently exposed shorelines, quickly fruits, and then dies.

Land plants may have evolved in this transition zone where, as the water rises and falls, aquatic plants found themselves repeatedly but not continuously exposed to the air and had to come up with ways of protecting their seeds or spores from desiccation, says Jeffrey Boore, Joint Genome Institute project leader, adjunct associate professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley.

Because of the key position of mosses in the evolution of green plants, the Physcomitrella genome may hold the key to the origin of such traits as desiccation tolerance, said Brent Mishler, a UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology who, with Ralph Quatrano of Washington University in St. Louis, originally proposed the moss genome project.

One of the claims to fame of mosses is the ability to dry up completely and come back to life again, said Mishler, who is director of the University and Jepson Herbaria, two collections of pressed plants housed together along with research labs, libraries and archives at UC Berkeley.

The scientists have been looking for years at all levels, from the organism down to the molecular level, at how mosses do this, and the genome sequence will help speed that work.

Bioenergy applications
From the Department of Energy's perspective, Boore said, discovering the genes involved in desiccation tolerance may help plant biologists incorporate the trait into other plants to improve their growth in arid conditions, allowing, for example, biofuel feedstocks to be grown on marginal land. And many other bioenergy applications are opening up:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Physcomitrella is also a model organism that is easily manipulated for study of how many plant genes function. It is to flowering plants what the fruit fly is to humans; that is, in the same way that the fly and mouse have informed animal biology, the genome of this moss will advance exploration of plant genes and their functions and utility, said Joint Genome Institute director Eddy Rubin.

Unlike vascular plant systems, the scientists can target and delete specific moss genes to study their function in important crop processes, and replace them with genes from crop plants to allow the study of the evolution of gene function. In addition to the genome, extensive genomic tools are now available in Physcomitrella to study comparative gene function and evolution as related to bioenergy and other processes of importance to crops.

The availability of the Physcomitrella genome is expected to create important new opportunities for understanding the molecular mechanisms involved in plant cell wall synthesis and assembly, according to Chris Somerville, UC Berkeley professor of plant and microbial biology and Director of the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI), a partnership between UC Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the global energy company BP.

Cellulosic biofuels
The ease with which genes can be experimentally modified in Physcomitrella will facilitate a wide range of studies of the cell wall, the principal component of terrestrial biomass, he said. Additionally, the moss has fewer cell types than higher plants and has a much more rapid lifecycle, which also greatly facilitates experimental studies of cell walls. Thus, the completion of the genome is an important step forward in facilitating basic research concerning the development of cellulosic biofuels.

In the Science paper, researchers from more than 40 institutions report that the Physcomitrella genome contains just under 500 million nucleotides and possesses nearly 36,000 genes, which is about 50 percent more than are thought to be in the human genome. Physcomitrella is the first nonvascular land plant to be sequenced. Vascular plants lack specialized tissues (phloem or xylem) for circulating fluids, instead possessing specialized tissues for internal transport. They neither flower nor produce seeds, but reproduce via spores.

Mishler says that Physcomitrella is well-placed phylogenetically to fill in the large gap between the unicellular green alga Chlamydomonas, also sequenced by the Joint Genome Institute, and the flowering plants.

Having the full Physcomitrella genome available to the public greatly advances bioinformatic comparisons and functional genomics in plants, Mishler adds, who is part of a major effort within the Berkeley Natural History Museums - a consortium of six museums at UC Berkeley - to link the two. This is a great example of how phylogenetics can integrate with functional and applied studies.

Mishler further noted that the draft genome sequence is only the beginning. Plant scientists plan to meet regularly to assign specific functions to the newly identified genes based on experiments in the moss or by analogy with related genes in other organisms. This experimentation process is called 'annotation'. The first so-called annotation jamboree was hosted in June 2006 by UC Berkeley and the Joint Genome Institute, and another is planned in Finland next year.

The genome sequencing was enabled through the Joint Genome Institute's Community Sequencing Program. The work involved Boore, David Cove and Andrew Cuming of the University of Leeds (United Kingdom); Mitsuyasu Hasebe and Tomoaki Nishiyama of Japan's National Institute for Basic Biology; Ralf Reski and Stefan Rensing of the University of Freiburg in Germany. In total 70 researchers from Belgium, Germany, the UK, Japan and the US collaborated on this breakthrough project.

International teams of leading scientists are working under the umbrella of the JGI to sequence the genomes of energy crops, algae, microorganisms and other plants that will contribute to a science-driven bioenergy future for the planet. Teams under the JGI were the first to sequence an entire tree's genome, namely that of the poplar, a model biomass crop. Other recent achievements include the sequencing of microbes found in termite guts, which could unlock the conversion of lignocellulosic biomass into biofuels. Crops currently being sequenced are, amongst others, eucalyptus, foxtail millet, cassava and sorghum.

Picture: Scanning electron micrograph of Physcomitrella patens gametophores (moss shoots). Credit: John Doonan, The John Innes Centre, Norwich, UK.

Stefan A. Rensing, "The Physcomitrella Genome Reveals Evolutionary Insights into the Conquest of Land by Plants", Published Online December 13, 2007, Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1150646

Joint Genome Institute: DOE JGI Community Sequencing Program Delivers First Moss Genome - December 13, 2007.

Biopact: Scientists sequence and analyse genomes of termite gut microbes to yield novel enzymes for cellulosic biofuel production - November 22, 2007

Biopact: Joint Genome Institute announces 2008 genome sequencing targets with focus on bioenergy and carbon cycle - June 12, 2007

Biopact: The first tree genome is published: Poplar holds promise as renewable bioenergy resource - September 14, 2006

Article continues

Eco-Tec biogas purification technology wins contract for greenhouse gas-to-energy project

Ontario based Eco-Tec announces that it has been awarded the contract for a biogas purification system by the Régie de gestion des matières résiduelles de la Mauricie (RGMRM) of Quebec. The integrated process includes the capture, purification and use of biogas as an renewable energy source for greenhouses. Growing products in greenhouses is highly energy intensive, making a switch to the use of locally available biomass waste economical.

RGMRM is a municipal organization that operates most of the municipal landfills in the Mauricie region in Quebec. The landfills, such as the Saint-Étienne-des-Grès landfill and the Trois-Rivières landfill have life spans of over 60 years. Each year one landfill will generate 18,000,000 m3 (635.7 million ft3) of biogas, the energy equivalent of 9,000,000 m3 (318 million ft3) of natural gas. RGMRM has developed and implemented plans to capture the biogas and use it in sustainable development projects that are designed to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by approximately 135,000 tons of CO2.

RGMRM's projects have three major advantages: they provide plans to use an environmentally sustainable process to manage the entire life cycle of buried waste; they allow a renewable energy generated from biogas to replace a fossil fuel; and the projects are becoming sources of revenue for RGMRM and the municipalities that use and sell the biogas.

Biogas is a mixture of methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2) obtained from the anaerobic fermentation of biomass. However, the renewable gas is often contaminated with toxic quantities of hydrogen sulfide (H2S). To upgrade the biogas into natural gas quality biomethane, purification technologies are applied. Eco-Tec's biogas scrubbing system was selected for RGMRM's projects because of its high efficiency: it removes more than 99% of H2S, results in lower sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions, reduced equipment corrosion, while offering a solution to other process problems associated with H2S.

The key innovation, from which other advantages arise, is the extremely high mass transfer rate generated by the proprietary gas-liquid contacting system (technical description here). Chemical costs are reduced through the combination of reduced catalyst inventories and concentration, a result of the increased mass transfer rates:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The unit is not affected by fluctuations in biogas feed rates and H2S concentration within the feed, and may be scaled up or down very efficiently. The system also includes self-induced gas flow, which may reduce or eliminate the need for a fan, blower or compressor, and low-pressure drop across the system.

The elemental sulfur by-product is non-hazardous and can be disposed of safely with biosolids, as a fertilizer or in a landfill.

The system was designed to integrate into RGMRM's process, that includes gas conditioning through the removal of water, sulfur and H2S. After purification, the natural gas quality methane is ready for use in power generation, cogeneration and heating applications such as, in this case, heat for tomato greenhouses.

The biogas technology joined Eco-Tec's product lines as an innovation from the researchers from the University of Toronto's Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry. Dr. James Smith invented the patented process and joins Eco-Tec in bringing economical and effective Biogas Purification to the global market.

The technology can be used across a wide variety of industries including: pulp and paper mills, landfill gas, industrial processing, wastewater treatment plants, food and beverage processing and meat rendering plants. The biogas purification system reduces greenhouse gases, creates minimal waste and increases energy recovery.

Eco-Tec was recently awarded the Canadian Innovation Award for Environmental Technology, by the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters association, for this biogas technology.

Eco-Tec: Biogas Purification - Technical Paper [*.pdf].

Eco-Tech: Bg Pur - Technical Paper [*.pdf].

Article continues

Hunton Energy to build synthetic natural gas plant at Dow chemical facility; biomass as feedstock, CO2 captured and stored

In a very interesting development that shows the versatility of biomass, Hunton Energy and the Dow Chemical Company have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that will result in Hunton Energy building and operating a Synthetic Natural Gas (SNG) plant partly fed by biomass at Dow’s Oyster Creek Facility on the Texas Gulf Coast. Under the proposed 15-year agreement with Dow, the Hunton Energy facility is slated to produce SNG and will use steam turbines to produce additional power from its byproduct steam. Processes in Hunton’s gasification system will capture 100% of the CO2 emissions from the facility for use in enhanced oil recovery and utilize all other byproducts commercially.

Contrary to biomethane which is obtained from the fermentation of biomass into biogas that is upgraded to natural gas quality, SNG is obtained from the gasifiction of carbonaceous feedstocks. When biomass is used as the sole feed, 'renewable SNG' is obtained, called 'green gas' [*.pdf] or 'bio-SNG'[*.pdf] in Europe, to distinguish it from biogas. Interestingly, the carbon dioxide that is generated from gasification can be captured and stored, or used commercially. When SNG is made from a pure biomass feedstock, a fuel with an ultra-low carbon dioxide profile is obtained.

Hunton announces it will indeed utilize biomass such as wood chips and rice hulls besides petroleum coke slurry. These sources are fed along with compressed oxygen into a gasifier. The feed is converted into a high-temperature, high-pressure syngas consisting of CO, H2, H2S, and CO2. The syngas then passes through an acid gas removal process where CO2 and H2S are separated and captured. The H2S is converted to elemental sulfur and sold as a byproduct from the facility. The CO2 is compressed and fed into oil wells in the region for enhanced oil recovery (EOR):
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

After the removal of CO2 and H2S, syngas then passes through a methanation block where it is converted into a synthetic natural gas (SNG) of pipeline quality. Any inorganic materials, such as metals that naturally occur in the feed, are melted by the heat of the reactor.

The hot gas and the molten minerals travel from the reactor into a radiant cooler. The radiant cooler uses the high-temperature heat of the reactants to generate high-pressure steam. The steam will be sold to Dow Chemical Company located next to the gasification facility. Dow will use this steam in their chemical processes instead of burning natural gas to generate the steam. Utilizing the process heat increases the efficiency of the gasification facility and reduces emissions from the Dow plant.

Vaporized water in the gas is condensed, and the molten minerals solidify into slag as the gas cools. The byproduct slag will be sold into the concrete/aggregate market. Water recovered from the process is used to make the feed slurry. The water contains unconverted carbon from the process (schematic, click to enlarge).

Hunton Energy estimates a fourth quarter 2008 groundbreaking for the project.

Route to radical biohydrogen
Note that a similar gasification process can be used in the future to obtain a truly carbon-negative fuel, namely biohydrogen. The methanation step would be skipped and replaced by a shift reactor that combines the CO and H2O from the syngas to generate pure H2 and CO2 (schematic, click to enlarge). As in the bio-SNG process, the CO2 from gasified biomass can then be captured and stored, with the result that a radically decarbonized fuel can be produced: biohydrogen.

The peculiarity of such a carbon negative fuel is that, each time you use it (in a fuel cell or to generate large scale power and heat), you take historic CO2 emissions out of the atmosphere. Most people are have difficulty understanding this strange idea - 'negative emissions' energy has not yet penetrated the green consciousness, because they are so radical. All other electricity sources are carbon-neutral at best, that is, they do not add new emissions to the atmosphere. But they do not take existing emissions out of it. Carbon negative bio-based hydrogen does. Which makes it a most radical weapon in the fight against climate change.

More on the competitiveness of gasification based biohydrogen with the potential to capture CO2 can be found in this recent presentation to the European Parliament [*.pdf].

On a different note, a recent study of more than 20 different future hydrogen production and utilization pathways for transport, indicates biohydrogen from gasification is both the most efficient as well as the greenest production pathway on a well-to-wheel basis. It beats all other techniques which are based on natural gas and coal, or on the electrolysis of water using electricity from fossil fuels, nuclear or renewables like wind (more here).

Huntington's gasification process is the first large scale demonstration of the production of SNG, which opens the future for entirely green SNG and later carbon negative biohydrogen.

Dow: Dow Signs MOU for Gasification Facility Hunton Energy to supply Dow with synthetic gas and steam in Texas [*.pdf] - December 13, 2007.

Hunton Energy: Clean Energy SNG Plant slated for Dow Chemical Facility - Hunton Energy locates innovative gasification plant in Texas - December 13, 2007.

Dr. ir. Harold Boerrigter, "Green Gas (SNG) in the Dutch Energy Infrastructure Potential & Implementation" [*.pdf], Energy research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN) - ECN Biomass, Coal & Environmental research, March 30, 2007.

M. Mozaffarian, R.W.R. Zwart, H. Boerrigter, E.P. Deurwaarder, S.R.A. Kersten, " 'Green Gas' as SNG (Synthetic Natural Gas), a renewable fuel with conventional quality" [*.pdf], Bio-SNG, Contribution to the “Science in Thermal and Chemical Biomass Conversion” Conference, 30 August – 2 September 2004, Victoria, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada.

Biowasserstoff: The Green Hydrogen Economy now [*.pdf] - Presentation at the European Parliament, Brussels - January 10, 2007

Biopact: Hydrogen out, compressed biogas in - October 01, 2006

Article continues

U.S. Senate passes weakened energy bill: six-fold increase in ethanol target

The U.S. Senate has passed a weakened energy bill that, for the first time in 32 years, contains higher fuel economy standards for cars and boosts the country's ethanol production target for the coming decade to a staggering 36 billion gallons a year by 2022 - a nearly six-fold increase. The smarter and more ambitious original version contained an obligation for power producers to purchase or generate a 15% share of their output from renewables, a reduction of the large tax breaks enjoyed by big oil and incentives to develop carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies.

Biopact thinks the ambitious ethanol target is highly problematic because initially it could lead to a further increase in international corn prices, a staple for much of the developing world. The target calls for 21 billion gallons of future biofuels to be produced from cellulosic biomass obtained from non-food energy crops and waste. This is an encouraging provision, but that leaves 15 billion gallons which could come from food. The U.S. currently consumes around 6.5 billion gallons of mainly corn based ethanol.

Moreover, given that biofuels will keep receiving a large amount of subsidies and will be proteced by import tariffs, the U.S. will not easily import more efficiently produced ethanol from the South. Finally, the lack of tax breaks for renewables like biomass, solar or wind, the abandonment of the obligation for utilities to source 15% of their output from renewables, and the weak fuel economy target means a transition towards more efficient and cleaner electric transport will be more difficult.

Biopact strongly favors the development of all-electric and hydrogen powered transport in highly industrialised countries, because it is more efficient, can draw on a wide variety of renewables, and still keeps open the option to trade bioenergy with the South. A transition to electric vehicles or (bio)hydrogen would even allow for the introduction of carbon-negative bioenergy and thus reduce carbon emissions from transport much more than can be achieved from liquid biofuels or from other renewables (earlier post).

Carbon-negative bioenergy - resulting in negative emissions energy - requires the development of efficient and cost-effective carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. The original energy bill would have promoted these, but the watered-down version has removed the incentives.

The trimmed-back bill was approved with bipartisan support 86-8 after Democrats abandoned efforts to impose billions of dollars in new taxes on the biggest oil companies, unable by one vote to overcome a Republican filibuster against the new taxes.

The bill now goes to the House, where a vote is expected next week. The White House issued a statement saying President Bush will sign the legislation if it reaches his desk, as is expected. Bush had promised a veto if the oil industry taxes were not removed.

The bill calls for the first major increase by Congress in required automobile fuel efficiency in 32 years, something the auto companies have fought for two decades. The car companies will have to achieve an industrywide average 35 mile per gallon for cars, small trucks and SUVs over the next 13 years, an increase of 10 mpg over what the entire fleet averages today:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The legislation calls for a boost to the use of ethanol to 36 billion gallons a year by 2022, a nearly sixfold increase, and impose an array of new requirements to promote efficiency in appliances, lighting and buildings.

Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada says this bill will begin to reverse America's addiction to oil. And that is is "a step to fight global warming".

The increased auto efficiency by 2020 will save 1.1 million barrels of oil a day, equal to half the oil now imported from the Persian Gulf, save consumers $22 billion at the pump, and reduce annual greenhouse gases emissions by 200 million tons, said Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii., whose committee crafted the measure. According to Inouye, the text demonstrates to the world that America is a leader in fighting global warming.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., a longtime protector of the auto industry that is so important to his state, called the fuel economy measure "ambitious but achievable."

For consumers, the legislation will mean that over the next dozen years auto companies will likely build more diesel-powered SUVs and gas-electric hybrid cars as well as vehicles that can run on 85 percent ethanol. They will push engineers to develop new technologies to save fuel.

According to David Friedman, research director at the Union of Concerned Scientists Clean Vehicle Program, automakers can meet the new standards with today's technology. Cars and trucks will be the same size and perform the same way they do today. But they may be using a different fuel.

The energy legislation would require that ethanol use as a motor fuel be ramped up at an unprecedented pace to 36 billion gallons a year by 2022. And at least 21 billion gallons will have to be ethanol from feedstock other than corn such as prairie grasses, switchgrass and wood chips. About 6.5 billion gallons of ethanol were expected to be used as a gasoline additive this year, according to the Renewable Fuels Association, which represents ethanol producers.

The legislation also would increase energy efficiency requirements for appliances and federal and commercial buildings and require faster approval of federal energy efficiency standards.

These measures, said Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., will eventually save more energy than all our previous energy efficiency measures combined.

Tax breaks for a wide range of clean energy industries, including biomass, wind, solar and carbon capture from coal plants, were part of the tax package that was dropped. Senate Democrats earlier also abandoned a House-passed provision that would have required investor-owned utilities nationwide to generate 15 percent of their electricity from solar, wind and biomass.

While many environmentalists viewed almost certain approval of the automobile fuel economy increase as a major victory, some were critical of the Democrats' inability to push through taxes on major oil companies, which have been making huge profits in recent years.

The Senate Democrats should show some backbone, said Brent Blackwelder, president of Friends of the Earth. If Republicans want to block progress on clean energy and global warming, they should be forced to mount a real filibuster — for weeks if necessary, he added.

Republicans had made it clear they would require the Democrats to find 60 votes on the oil taxes and the White House had said repeatedly the $13.5 billion in taxes on the five largest oil companies over 10 years would assure a veto.

On the 59-40 vote that failed to overcome a GOP filibuster, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., whose state's economy is dominated by oil and energy activities, was the only Democrat to break ranks. Nine Republicans supported the tax measures.

The White House has said the taxes would lead to higher energy costs and unfairly single out the oil industry for punishment. A Democratic analysis showed that the $13.5 billion over 10 years amounted to 1.1 percent of the net profits that five largest oil companies would be expected to earn given today's oil prices.

U.S. Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources: Senate Votes to Save Energy Bill - December 13, 2007.

AP: Senate Approves Trimmed-Back Energy Bill - December 14, 2007.

Biopact: The strange world of carbon-negative bioenergy: the more you drive your car, the more you tackle climate change - October 29, 2007

Article continues