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    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.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

FAO calls for steps to boost farm output in poor countries to counter soaring food prices; points to Malawi's success

The UN's FAO is urging governments and the international community to implement immediate measures in support of poor countries hit hard by dramatic food price increases. It calls for steps to improve poor farmers' access to inputs like seeds, fertilizer and other inputs to increase local crop production. The FAO refers to the the success in Malawi's farm sector, which succeeded in turning itself around from being a food importer to producing a huge excess of food as a result of simple interventions, proving that the current situation can be altered.

Biopact thinks the crisis offers an exceptional opportunity to point to the roots of the many problems experienced by developing countries:
  • tariffs and subsidies for biofuels in the US and the EU, which take food off the market for the production of inefficient biofuels like corn ethanol or rapeseed biodiesel;
  • the contrary example of Brazil's ethanol sector, showing that highly efficient biofuels can be produced without increasing food prices (the international price of sugar has declined despite record sugarcane ethanol output);
  • the catastrophic effect of political crises in developing countries, leading to the destruction of the agricultural sector and food insecurity; over the long term, creating political stability is the absolute priority in the fight against hunger
  • bad governance and corruption by developing country governments and local economic elites, who neglect their own farm sectors and favor imports from a small number of multinationals (some have called bad governance the single biggest immediate cause of hunger - earlier post)
  • the emblematic success of Malawi's super harvest, showing that simple interventions in the farm sector can turn a hungry country into a major food exporter in a single year's time; Malawi kicked out both the World Bank's experts (who were against state support for the farm sector) and NGOs who advocated against the use of fertilizers; instead, Malawi launched a national fertilizer subsidy campaign, with a massive output of food as a consequence; the example shows agriculture in Africa can become self-sufficient and produce a vast excess of food, if only very simple interventions are implemented
But these factors point to what the situation should be, not to what it actually is today. Currently 37 countries worldwide are facing food crises due to conflict and disasters, the FAO says. In addition, food security is being adversely affected by unprecedented price hikes for basic food, driven by historically low food stocks, droughts and floods linked to climate change, high oil prices and growing demand for biofuels. High international cereal prices have already sparked food riots in several countries.

In its November issue of Food Outlook, FAO estimated that the total cost of imported foodstuffs for Low Income Food Deficit Countries (LIFDCs) in 2007 would be some 25 percent higher than the previous year, surpassing US$ 107 million.
Urgent and new steps are needed to prevent the negative impacts of rising food prices from further escalating and to quickly boost crop production in the most affected countries. Without support for poor farmers and their families in the hardest-hit countries, they will not be able to cope. Assisting poor vulnerable households in rural areas in the short term and enabling them to produce more food would be an efficient tool to protect them against hunger and undernourishment. - FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf
Note that Diouf does not blame biofuels as such, on the contrary. Recently he said:
Much of the current debate on bioenergy [...] obscures the sector's huge potential to reduce hunger and poverty.

If we get it right, bioenergy provides us with a historic chance to fast-forward growth in many of the world's poorest countries, to bring about an agricultural renaissance and to supply modern energy to a third of the world's population. - FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf
The real problem is with the current geographical distribution of bioenergy production: European and American farmers produce biofuels from food in a highly inefficient way, from crops that do not yield much energy. They can only do so because they are protected by import tariffs and by massive subsidies. For this reason, Diouf and many others have called for the abandonment of these trade and market distorting factors. Biofuels should be produced by those who can make them in an efficient manner from high yielding energy crops, without impacting food prices. That is: countries in the South, like Brazil (sugar prices have declined, despite record sugarcane ethanol production). In short, we need a major rethink of the biofuels sector - the case for a 'Biopact' has never been stronger.

Short-term support
The FAO is calling for urgent action to provide small farmers in LIFDCs that depend heavily on food imports, with improved access to inputs like seeds, fertilizer and other inputs to increase, in particular, local crop production.

Within countries, improved access to these inputs could be provided by issuing poor farmers with vouchers to buy seeds, fertilizer and other inputs for major staple crops, which should increase local food production. Such steps could help to alleviate the persistent threat of severe undernourishment of millions of people, FAO said.

FAO will support a catalytic model programme in close cooperation with the private sector. At the same time, FAO aims to assist countries in mobilising resources required to strengthen their productive capability, market access and other measures required for long-term household food security.

Malawi’s success

Some countries like Malawi have proven that it is possible to boost local food production through the provision of vouchers for farm inputs, the FAO says. The Malawi programme has over the last two years produced spectacular results whereby maize production in 2006/07 was one million metric tonnes higher than national maize requirements, Diouf says:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The value of the extra production was double that of the investment provided. Many small-scale farmers have benefited and have increased production for their own consumption. The Malawi success could be replicated by other countries facing a very difficult food production environment.

Short-term intervention will by no means replace medium and long-term investments for enhancing the production capacity in the target countries, FAO said.

"On the contrary, we want the pressure on governments to finance expensive food imports to be eased so they can focus on long-term solutions. Short-term investments have to be accompanied immediately with measures to ensure water control, increase rural infrastructure and improve soil fertility and guarantee long-term sustainability of food production," Diouf said.

FAO will fund a model programme of interventions from resources put at its disposal by member countries and will encourage national governments, international institutions and other donors to replicate and expand successful interventions in line with ongoing international initiatives.

FAO: FAO calls for urgent steps to protect the poor from soaring food prices - December 17, 2007.

Biopact: FAO chief calls for a 'Biopact' between the North and the South - August 15, 2007

Biopact: FAO forecasts continued high cereal prices: bad weather, low stocks, soaring demand, biofuels, high oil prices cited as causes - November 07, 2007

Biopact: Malawi's super harvest proves biofuel critics wrong - or, how to beat hunger and produce more oil than OPEC - December 04, 2007

Article continues

USDA: Biofuels lead to all-time record farm income in the United States

The United States Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service (ERS) has released its annual Agricultural Income and Finance Outlook, showing that the biofuels revolution that has swept the US has led to net farm incomes reaching an all-time high. ERS is forecasting net farm income to reach $87.5 billion, up $28.5 billion from 2006 and exceeding the 2004 record.
This large boost is primarily the result of the increased demand for biofuels and agricultural exports, which has increased farm prices for corn, soybeans, milk, and other farm commodities. - USDA, ERS
In general, 2007 is proving to be a very good year for most U.S. producers of agricultural commodities, both crops and livestock. The boost in 2007 U.S. farm income is primarily the result of high commodity prices. These are caused by the confluence of a set of factors:
  • record economic growth and higher incomes in developing countries with large population leading to global wheat consumption exceeding production in recent years
  • inadequate rainfall in competitor countries that produce similar commodities combined
  • rising use of some major crops in biofuel production has increased the demand for these commodities and contributes to upward pressure on feed grain prices; corn is the primarily beneficiary of the increased production of biofuels; soybeans are used in the production of biodiesel.
  • the depreciation of the US dollar by 25 percent or more against major foreign currencies since 2002, further increasing demand for U.S. exports and boosting farm-level prices
As a result, the combination of reduced supplies and is translating into rising demand for farm commodities, regardless of where they are produced.

The value of crop production is expected to increase by $30.5 billion in 2007, the largest annual increase since 1984. The value of livestock production is expected to increase almost $20 billion.

Direct government payments in 2007 are expected to decline by $3.7 billion from 2006. Farm production expenses are forecast to rise to a record-level $254.2 billion in 2007.

Fuel price increases in 2007 are expected to be lower than the previous 4 years of consecutive double-digit annual percentage increases.

Average net cash income for U.S. farm businesses is projected to be $66,100 in 2007. This represents a 21-percent increase from 2006 and would be 23 percent higher than its most recent 5-year average:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Farm sector equity is expected to continue rising in 2007 as the anticipated increase in farm asset value exceeds the rise in the value of farm debt. U.S. farm sector net worth is expected to exceed $2.0 trillion in 2007, up from $1.8 trillion in 2006.

The average household income (from farm and off-farm sources) of principal U.S. farm operators is projected to be up 7.7 percent in 2007, to $83,622. About 13 percent of the average farm operator household income is expected to come from farm sources in 2007. Income from farm sources increased by more than 30 percent in 2006-07, in contrast to a more moderate 5-percent increase in off-farm income.

For every year since 1996, average income of farm households has exceeded average U.S. household income. In fact, just the off-farm income component of average farm operator household income has exceeded the average U.S. household income from all sources since 1998. For the 15 major agricultural States where data are available, the average income of farm operator households in 2006 exceeded the average income of all households in those States.

In addition, farm households have significantly more net worth than the average U.S. household. Trends in averages mask a great deal of diversity in the financial position of U.S. farm operator households. The size of the farm operation, the commodities being produced, and the importance of off-farm sources of income all influence the level of farm household income and net worth, and how much it is growing or declining.

USDA Economic Research Service: Agricultural Income and Finance Outlook [*.pdf] - December 2007.

Article continues

Researchers find bio-based bulk chemicals could save up to 1 billion tonnes of CO2

A new analysis by Dutch researchers from Utrecht University has concluded that use of existing biotechnology in the production of so-called bulk chemicals could reduce consumption of non-renewable energy (nuclear, oil, gas, coal) and carbon emissions by a full 100 percent and more when biomass is used as a raw material. Most importantly, in the future green chemicals made in biorefineries could contribute in a very significant way to combating climate change, by saving up to 1 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions worldwide. To give an idea, this is equivalent to taking all European cars and trucks off the road. What is more, the scientists found that in some cases it would be more efficient to use land to grow feedstocks for green chemicals instead of liquid biofuels. The study appeared as an open access article in Environmental Science & Technology.

Bulk chemicals like ethylene, butanol or acrylic acid are the basic raw materials used in the production of everything from plastics and fertilizers to electronic components and medicines. Currently derived from crude oil and natural gas, bulk chemical production creates billions of tons of carbon dioxide each year. Still, the application of industrial biotechnology for the production of bulk chemicals has received much less attention than alternative fuel or biomass-derived energy production.

B. G. Hermann and colleagues analyzed current and future technology routes leading to 15 bulk chemicals using industrial biotechnology, calculating their carbon emissions and fossil energy use. The life cycle inventory shows that with biotechnology advances in the future, worldwide CO2 savings in the range of 500-1000 million tons per year are possible. Even today, bio-based bulk chemicals "offer clear savings in non-renewable energy use and green house gas emissions with current technology compared to conventional petrochemical production", they write.

Sweetness from cradle-to-grave
The scientists present a prospective environmental assessment dealing with future processing routes, using proxies for the overall environmental impact of the bio-based products: non-renewable energy use (NREU), greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), and land use.

NREU represents a straightforward and practical approach because many environmental impacts are related to energy use. NREU encompasses fossil and nuclear energy and was expressed as higher heating value (HHV), also called the gross calorific value. In line with LCA methodology, the NREU values reported here represent the cumulative energy demand for the system cradle-to-grave.

Greenhouse gas emissions are of growing importance because of the increasing attention paid to the greenhouse effect in the policy arena, by companies, and by the public. GHG emissions were calculated in CO2 equivalents and consist of GHG emissions from the system in the form of CO2 or CH4, as well as nitrous oxide (N2O) from fertilizer use in biomass production. CO2 emissions from renewable carbon extracted from the atmosphere during plant growth were excluded.

Land use refers to agricultural land use only and will be of increasing importance in the future because of the growth of land requirements for bio-based energy, liquid biofuels, bio-based chemicals, and food and feed production. We neglected the land requirements for industrial plants, for transportation infrastructure, and for waste management because they are small compared with agricultural land use and are comparable for bio-based and petrochemical products.

Three different carbohydrate raw material sources for the products were analysed, both as they are produced currently, and how they are expected to be produced in the future: sucrose from sugar cane, glucose from corn starch, and fermentable sugars from lignocellulosic biomass (wood, grasses, etc...). They found that for most products, the energy and emissions savings are highest when the feedstock is sugar from cane (both today and in the future), even higher than sugar from lignocellulosic biomass. (In this sense, there is once again a case to be made for a 'Biopact' on green chemicals - see our previous overview of the state of research into biopolymers and bioplastics in the Global South, and previous articles on sugarcane bioproducts here, here, and here).

GHG savings
The researchers found products with the highest relative savings are ethylene, ethanol and butanol, whereas acetic acid and PTT have lowest savings (graph 1, click to enlarge). Differences between best cases and arithmetic means were 7-20% in GHG savings:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Almost all products promise GHG savings for current technology. For PHA and adipic acid, this depends on the source of fermentable sugar. Acetic acid offers no savings using current technology because of low broth concentration and low productivity in fermentation, as well as high utility use in downstream processing because of the difficulty of separating acetic acid from water (azeotropic mixture).

GHG savings for PTT are low because this polymer is made from PDO and purified terephthalic acid, with the latter being produced from petrochemical feedstocks.

GHG savings for sugar cane as the source of fermentable sugar are clearly higher than for cornstarch because of the coproduction of significant amounts of electricity which can be exported.

To maximize greenhouse gas savings for green chemicals sugar cane is favored over lignocellulosics, which in turn is preferable to corn starch as source of fermentable sugar. In temperate climates such as Europe and North America, where sugar cane is not available from domestic production, lignocellulosics should be the preferred future feedstock.

Interestingly, in some of the lignocellulosics and sugar cane cases, the savings are larger than 100% because the energy credits from co-combustion of waste biomass or from side-streams of agricultural production were larger than the GHG emissions for the industrial biotechnology process chain. In a sense, these green products would not merely be 'carbon neutral', but yield 'negative emissions'.

On average, GHG savings for future industrial biotechnology pathways are 25-35% higher than for current technologies. This shows that technological progress can further enhance the environmental advantage of green chemicals over their petrochemical equivalents.

Low GHG emissions of a process may be caused by (1) high product yield from fermentation or (2) low product yield from fermentation combined with large energy credits from subsequent combustion of coproduced biomass.

Land use
In the second case, the inefficient fermentation processes require considerably more land for biomass production than efficient fermentation does. If land availability becomes limited, GHG savings should be maximized for a given amount of land, or alternatively, land use should be minimized for a certain amount of GHG to be saved. Graph 2 (click to enlarge) therefore simultaneously analyzes GHG savings in all green chemical production-routes relative to the petrochemical route and land use per ton of chemical.

It shows that there is a relationship between the type of chemical and the amount of land use for its production from sugar cane. For the production of one ton carboxylic acids 0.1-0.2 ha land are required, whereas the alcohols are in the range of 0.25-0.35 ha/t. For PTT, land use and GHG savings are low because only a part of this polymer is produced from bio-based feedstocks. Putting GHG savings and low land-use first, succinic acid, caprolactam, PLA, and butanol are the most attractive.

Producing fuel ethanol from sugar cane results in savings of 10-16 t CO2,eq/ha. But several green chemicals show CO2 savings above 16 t CO2,eq/ha and are therefore preferable from the point of view of CO2 mitigation.

Future technologies
An analysis of future technologies shows that land-use efficiency in terms of CO2 savings per hectare is much better for corn stover than for sugar cane (graph 3, click to enlarge). Conversion of corn stover to chemicals using future technology almost always results in CO2 savings above 25 t/ha.

Biomass for electricity use saves approximately 12 t CO2,eq/ha for whole crop wheat and using lignocellulosics for fuel ethanol production saves 2-7 t CO2,eq/ha (however, note that the researchers did not take into account the coupling of bio-electricity production coupled to carbon capture and storage, which would save much more CO2 by burying it under ground).

Putting CO2 savings first, this implies that most chemicals are preferred over bioenergy if sugar cane is used as feedstock, and almost all chemicals are preferred if using corn stover.

Total potential
A quantification of the total GHG savings potentials for green chemicals, assuming full substitution of the petrochemical equivalents and based on world production capacities in the years 1999/2000 are shown in table 1 (click to enlarge). The total saving potential for the future according to (510 million tons CO2,eq for corn starch) disregards growth of the chemical industry.

The future saving potential is even higher if lignocellulosics (820 million tons CO2,eq) or sugar cane (1030 million tons CO2,eq) are used as feedstocks. For comparison, current technology production of the petrochemical equivalents lead to emissions of 880 million tons CO2,eq for the same installed capacity and system boundaries. This shows that the potential GHG savings for current technology and corn starch as feedstock already reach 45%.

In summary, even at present, bio-based bulk chemicals from industrial biotechnology offer clear savings in non-renewable energy use and GHG emissions with current technology compared to conventional petrochemical production. Substantial further savings are possible for the future by improved fermentation and downstream processing. Of all feedstocks, sugar cane is to be favored over lignocellulosics, which in turn is preferable to corn starch as source of fermentable sugar to maximize savings. The products with the highest savings are acrylic acid, butanol (from ABE process), ethanol, ethylene, PDO, and PHA.

The researchers conclude that:
From a policy perspective, environmental advantages make the production of bio-based bulk chemicals using industrial biotechnology desirable on a large-scale, because savings of more than 100% in non-renewable energy use and greenhouse gas emissions are already possible at the current level of biotechnology. [...] As a consequence, using industrial biotechnology to produce bio-based chemicals can contribute significantly to the reduction of climate change and the depletion of fossil energy. It is therefore a key strategy for sustainable development of the chemical industry. - B. G. Hermann, K. Blok, and M. K. Patel
This builds a strong case for the production of bio-based bulk chemicals using industrial biotechnology considering the economic and environmental advantages of 1,3-propanediol, polytrimethylene terephthalate, succinic acid, and ethanol for current technologies and of all products except acetic acid for future technology.


B. G. Hermann,* K. Blok, and M. K. Patel, "Producing Bio-Based Bulk Chemicals Using Industrial Biotechnology Saves Energy and Combats Climate Change", Environ. Sci. Technol., 41 (22), 7915 -7921, 2007. 10.1021/es062559q S0013-936X(06)02559-4

Eurekalert: Existing biotechnology could save energy and cut CO2 by 100 percent - December 17, 2007.

Biopact: Notes on biopolymers in the Global South - March 11, 2007

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Total and Indonesia sign a MOU on CO2 capture and storage: towards carbon negative bioenergy?

Total announces the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding between Total E&P Indonesia and the Indonesian Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources on access to data on carbon capture and storage (CCS), on the sidelines of the UN Climate Change Conference. Under the agreement, Indonesia’s Agency of Research and Development for Energy and Mineral Resources will be allowed to access to important data from Total’s pilot project which is being implemented near Lacq in the South West of France (earlier post).

The information is important because CCS techniques can be coupled to biofuels and bioenergy production, to yield 'negative emissions' energy. However, Biopact recently warned that if forest-rich developing countries, like Indonesia, apply CCS to bioenergy, the scheme could limit the feasibility of initiatives aimed at 'reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries' (REDD), because such 'bio-energy with carbon storage' (BECS) schemes would sequester far more CO2 than a standing forest.

In this particular case, Indonesia could decide to produce large amounts of biohydrogen, biogas, synthetic natural gas from biomass, or bio-electricity from locally grown energy crops, sequester part or all of the CO2 in geological formations such as depleted oil and gas fields, sell the energy and bank in on the carbon credits. In some production pathways, BECS would be significantly less costly than CCS applied to fossil fuels, because gas capture would be far easier (notably in the case of microbial biohydrogen and biomethane obtained from anaerobic fermentation). To give an idea of the amount of 'negative emissions' that can be generated by BECS systems: when biomass (eucalyptus, acacia) is burned in an Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) plant, and the CO2 captured and stored, it can generate electricity with minus 1000 grams of CO2/kWh. All other renewables have a positive balance: +30 to +100 gCO2/kWh for wind, biomass without CCS, and solar, and up to +850 gCO2/kWh for a coal-fired power plant (earlier post and references there).

Renewables, bioenergy without CCS and nuclear power are called 'carbon neutral' because they add negligible amounts of CO2 to the atmosphere. But only biomass based systems coupled to CCS can generate 'negative emissions' and allow us to take CO2 out of the atmosphere (schematic, click to enlarge). Scientists have calculated that if BECS systems were to replace coal on a large ('geoengineering') scale, atmospheric CO2 levels could be brought back to pre-industrial levels by mid-century. In short, bioenergy with CCS is the most radical tool in the fight against climate change.

The threat of BECS to REDD remains conceptual, because the technology is in an experimental stage and capital intensive. However, Indonesia has a large existing natural gas and oil infrastructure, and, in a scenario of high energy and carbon prices, it could decide in the future to utilize this infrastructure to experiment with such BECS systems based on biomass grown on forest land. Total is now giving Indonesia access to its knowledge on CCS technologies, so the threat comes one step closer.

Total's project in the French Pyrénées, one of the first in the world to include the whole chain from combustion to CO2 geological storage, is primarily intended to prove the technical feasibility of an integrated carbon capture and storage scheme. It should enable the company to contribute to the fight against global warming, and provide an efficient solution to help limiting the footprint of Total’s activities in Exploration and Production, Refining and Chemicals.

The project in Lacq, which leverages a technique considered among the most promising in the fight against climate change, calls for up to 150,000 metric tons of CO2 to be injected into a depleted natural gas field in Rousse (Pyrénées) over a period of two years as from end-2008. The first link in the chain is a steam production unit at the Lacq gas processing plant. Oxygen will be used for combustion rather than air to obtain a more concentrated CO2 stream that will be easier to capture:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Once purified, the CO2 will be compressed and conveyed via pipeline to the depleted Rousse field, 30 kilometres from Lacq, where it will be injected through an existing well into a rock formation 4,500 metres under ground (top schematic, click to enlarge).

Under the new MOU Indonesia will be able to get access to the experimental data emerging from the trials in France, and develop its own technical and economical understanding of such a CO2 storage scheme, especially concerning the geological aspects. In turn, this may assist the Indonesian Government to establish an appropriate regulatory framework for similar projects that may be proposed in Indonesia.

Present in Indonesia since 1968, Total is the country’s leading gas producer. Production has grown steadily since 1999, and the Group operates nearly 2.6 billion cubic feet per day of gas production from the Mahakam block. Output should be maintained at this level at least through the early years of the next decade particularly thanks to Sisi-Nubi’s production. The Mahakam block is also one of the country’s top-tier oil and condensate producer, with output of nearly 90,000 barrels per day.

Total’s operated production in Indonesia supplies the domestic market and approximately 80% of the feed gas for the Bontang liquefaction plant, one of the largest worldwide with a capacity of more than 22 Mt/y, for exports to Japan, Korea and Taiwan, providing to these countries a source of energy more environment friendly than oil or coal.

Total: Total and Indonesia Sign a Memorandum of Understanding on CO2 Capture and Storage - December 17, 2007.

Mongabay: Carbon-negative bioenergy to cut global warming could drive deforestation:
An interview on BECS with Biopact's Laurens Rademakers
- November 6, 2007.

Biopact: Total launches the first integrated CO2 capture and geological sequestration project in a depleted natural gas field - February 12, 2007

On carbon-negative bioenergy, see:
And the introductions at the Abrupt Climate Change Strategy Group.

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Biomethane presented as most efficient biofuel at NAAC Conference

At the recent National Association of Agricultural Contractors (NAAC) Contractor 2007 Conference, in the UK, biofuels took center stage. Farmers were impressed by a presentation by Tim Evans, whose company – Renewable Zukunft - presented results from a 'Mini Test': a comparative trial of biofuels used in the Mini, to see how far each type of biofuel generated from 1 hectare of energy crops takes the car. Biomethane stood out as the clear winner.

Evans believes that the inevitable decline in fossil fuel availability and the concerns over energy security (90% of UK gasoline is imported) will see many types of renewable energy start to look a lot more viable. However he warned that farmers need to consider which areas of production they want to get involved with carefully.

UK farmers have a great opportunity to make themselves independent suppliers of energy. But they should avoid to fall back into the trap of becoming mere commodity producers, supplying a biofuel feedstock at whatever price the buyer offers. To do this Evans argues that farms need to keep control over the whole energy chain, right through from growing the raw material to pumping electricity into the National Grid.

He put forward a simple model as a measure of renewable fuel efficiency – the Mini Test, to show how far the little car will travel on a hectare’s worth of fuel (graph, click to enlarge).

Biodiesel fares worst taking a Mini just over 20,000km (5030 miles/acre). Bioethanol manages just over 30,000km/ha (7540 miles/acre). Then there is a marked jump to synthetic biodiesel, a next-generation biofuel produced from gasified biomass and converted to liquid fuel via the Fisher-Tropsch Process: it carries the Mini over 70,000km (13,960 miles/acre).

But biomethane, which is upgraded biogas made from anaerobically fermented crops, slurry or organic waste, tops the chart at nearly 97,000km/ha (24,390 miles/acre) almost five times as much as biodiesel. Compared to second-generation biofuels, such as cellulosic ethanol or biomass-to-liquids, biogas is a mature technology.

The comparison is interesting and confirms results from some earlier well-to-wheel studies (e.g. the Renewable Energy Centre recently released its assessment of responses to the King Review of Low Carbon Cars’ call for evidence and supports the Biomethane for Transport organisation which found that biogas is the cleanest and most efficient of all transport fuels). But merely pointing at the 'land use efficiency' of a fuel is not enough. The exercise needs to take into account many other questions, such as the lifecycle emissions, fuel production costs, scaling options, the need for adapted fuel distribution infrastructures and vehicle modifications:
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When these are taken into account, a different picture emerges, as was recently demonstrated in a comprehensive comprehensive EU WTW study on 70 different fuels and propulsion technologies, and in a smaller comparison of 7 biofuels made by Volvo (earlier post).

Notwithstanding these questions, Evans promotes the concept of on-farm biogas production for other reasons. He claims that by putting a 400 ha (1000acre) arable unit down to crops to feed a farm-scale biogas plant in 2006, farmers could have generated nearly £10,000 additional net profit by selling electricity.

And that figure could look a whole lot more rosy if government support is increased to raise renewable electricity values from £65/mW to over £100/mW, as is expected by 2009.

For an investment of at least £2million, a 1mW plant consuming 1000 acres worth of grass, maize and wholecrop silage, topped up with slurry and manure can generate a 20% return on capital, Evans claims.

Added to this is the nutritional benefit of the processed slurry as a fertiliser at the end of the production cycle.

Biogas is a rapidly growing sector in mainland Europe, with several countries (Sweden, Germany, Austria) utilizing the fuel for transport. When upgraded to natural gas quality, the fuel can be fed into the natural gas grid.

Some have found there to be a large potential for biogas in Europe, with the most optimistic estimates claiming the gas can replace all natural gas imports from Russia by 2020.

Farmers Weekly: Biogas - the future for UK farms? - December15, 2007.

Biopact: Volvo releases comprehensive analysis of seven biofuels for use in carbon-neutral trucks - August 29, 2007

Biopact: Germany considers opening natural gas network to biogas - major boost to sector - August 11, 2007

Biopact: Study: Biogas can replace all EU imports of Russian gas by 2020 - February 10, 2007

Biopact: Study: EU biogas production grew 13.6% in 2006, holds large potential - July 24, 2007

Biopact: A quick look at natural gas and biogas hybrids - September 16, 2007

Biopact: Report: carbon-negative biomethane cleanest and most efficient biofuel for cars - August 29, 2007

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Zimbabwe embarks on large national biofuel program to cut catastrophic oil dependence

Zimbabwe's Minster of Science and Technology Development, Dr Olivia Muchena, announced the government has embarked on an ambitious programme that will see all the country's 10 provinces having biofuel plants by 2010. The program is expected to benefit farmers 'greatly' and cut Zimbabwe's catastrophic dependence on imported oil. The announcement was made at an Extra Ordinary meeting of the ZANU-PF.

Apart from producing biofuel to power the country's economy at low cost, the plants would also produce a range of by-products to substitute some commodities such as lubricants, fertilizer and soap among others that are being imported from other countries.

Dependence on extremely costly imported oil is draining the Zimbabwe's treasury. The country spends around 10% of its small GDP on importing fuel, and it feels shocks throughout its economy with each single dollar rise in the oil price. Zimbabwe is 100% dependent on oil imports.

What is more, physical fuel shortages (partly the result of economic sanctions) are having a dramatic effect not only on businesses, the transport sector and the urban poor's mobility, but especially on the country's many farmers. They cannot bring inputs to their farms, fail to harvest products, let alone transport them to market. The consequences of fuel shortages are an even greater reduction of food production and a further inflation of food prices.

A first large biodiesel plant, inaugurated earlier this month, is aimed at turning this catastrophic situation around. When fully operational, the 100 million liter/year plant, fed by cotton seed, soya beans, jatropha and sunflower seed, will replace 13% of the country's fuel imports. At the opening ceremony, president Robert Mugabe said on a combative tone:
As a nation we have once again demonstrated that the ill-fated sanctions against the innocent people of Zimbabwe can never subdue our resilience and inner propulsion to succeed and remain on our feet as a nation. Soon, our economy will be paying us back the dividends of the seedlings of progression we are planting across different productive sectors. - Robert Mugabe
Dr Muchena says she has now instructed all provinces through their governors to encourage farmers to increase the number of jatropha plantations further, ahead of the programme.
By 2010, we want to make sure that all the provinces have plants that produce biofuel. Dr Gideon Gono (RBZ Governor) informed me when we toured the construction site of a plant in Mutoko. The Governor of Matabeleland South, (Cde) Angeline Masuku, has already started work in her province. We want to prosper, let us grow these plants, which also produce fertilizer. - Dr Olivia Muchena, Minster of Science and Technology Development
Dr Muchena was briefing delegates during the ZANU-PF Extra Ordinary meeting in Harare on what the government was doing to harness local expertise to produce fuel for the country which is grappling with economic sanctions. The jatropha plant - locally referred to as 'black gold' - is grown in countries such as India, where trials with the biofuel in diesel locomotives are underway.

The plant grows well with limited inputs in dry areas such as Matabeleland South and North and Masvingo. However, it can be grown in other parts of the country as well. Dr Muchena said that in Mashonaland East, if all farmers were to produce jatropha communally around their farms as protective hedges (jatropha is toxic and keeps grazing animals off fields), at two hectares per each A1 farmer and 10 hectares per A2 farmer, the province had the potential to produce 860 million litres of fuel, more than the country's total fuel imports (4.7 million barrels per year). In theory, Mashonaland East's farmers could make Zimbabwe fully oil independent:
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According to Dr Gono, who also addressed the congress yesterday, the majority of farmers who produce strategic crops were going to be rewarded 'greatly' next year, while others would be paid in foreign currency.

Dr Muchena said it was unfortunate that huge quantities of jatropha seed given to farmers during the Goromonzi conference were destroyed.

She, however, said her ministry was going to send teams of experts to all districts in the country to educate farmers on how to grow jatropha. During the Umzingwani Conference in Matabeleland South in 2005, jatropha was declared tree of the year. Since then, it has been planted across the country, but in not in a coordinated way.

"The Ministry of Environment and Tourism, through the Forestry Company of Zimbabwe, has come up with a jatropha programme. So no one should say we have no idea about the plant. In January, we are actually going to step up production of the jatropha", she added.

The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe earlier this year announced it has so far disbursed 2.9 billion Zimbabwean dollars (€8.6/US$11.6 million) for the national biodiesel project out of a total of $3 billion availed by the country's government last year.

Roughly 66% of the country's population is employed in agriculture, mainly as subsistence farmers. Their livelihoods stand to benefit from the biodiesel program.

The Herald (Harrare, via AllAfrica): Govt Embarks On Biofuel Programme - December 15, 2007.

Biopact: Zimbabwe opens first biodiesel plant to ease catastrophic fuel shortages in farm sector - November 16, 2007

Biopact: Zimbabwe's jatropha project receives US$11.6 million - May 18, 2007

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