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    PetroChina Co Ltd, the country's largest oil and gas producer, plans to invest 800 million yuan to build an ethanol plant in Nanchong, in the southwestern province of Sichuan, its parent China National Petroleum Corp said. The ethanol plant has a designed annual capacity of 100,000 tons. ABCMoneyNews - December 21, 2007.

    Mexico passed legislation to promote biofuels last week, offering unspecified support to farmers that grow crops for the production of any renewable fuel. Agriculture Minister Alberto Cardenas said Mexico could expand biodiesel faster than ethanol. More soon. Reuters - December 20, 2007.

    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.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

EPSO vice-president: developing countries to play key role in climate-friendly bioenergy

Much is expected of biotechnology this century. The prospect of a growing world population and increasing energy needs has prompted plant scientists to design new crops that must make it possible to both feed the planet and provide it with climate friendly bioenergy in a sustainable way. In the following interview, Dirk Inzé, Plant Systems Biology professor at the University of Ghent (Belgium), co-founder of biotech firm Crop Design (recently acquired by chemical giant BASF) and vice-president of the European Plant Science Organisation (EPSO) discusses some of these challenges.

Inzé's team at the Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology (VIB) played an important role in mapping the poplar genome and in several other projects under the Joint Genome Institute which investigates energy crops. The VIB was founded by the father of modern plant bio-engineering, Marc Van Montagu (previous post). The breakthrough work of Inzé and the organisation of Ghent's plant sciences has contributed much to Belgium achieving the the title of being the 'world's best place' to work in scientific research (more here).

In the interview, Inzé says the developing world stands to gain from its enormous potential to produce biofuels and energy crops. The scientist also warns that if Europe doesn't ease its stance on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), its citizens will find it impossible to buy affordable food in the future.

Professor Inzé, you are focused on increasing the productivity and yield of crops. Can you describe the main challenges?

In the next decades we will have to feed three billion more people than today. Their living standard will be higher than that of the current generation, so they will want to consume more meat. Per kilogram of animal protein, you need seven kilograms of grain. The yield per hectare of crops will therefor have to increase significantly. Experiments with prototypes of genetically modified crops show we can increase production by 50 percent without extra inputs of nitrogen and other fertilizers.

Which crops are we talking about?

The main grain crops, like rice and maize. There is a tremendous amount of natural variation in plant growth. Some species remain tiny, while others grow in a spectacular manner, most notably a type of bamboo, the record holder - you can literally see it grow with the naked eye, at 1.2 meters per day. This opens interesting perspectives.

Isn't plant growth regulated by a whole range of genes?
Of course, and this is where systems biology proves to be so useful: we try to grasp the complexities of the entire process. It's possible to learn to understand the workings of all the components of an airplane, but really understanding how it stays in the air is something else. In the same way we try to gain insight into life in its full complexity, and to get there we start by learing what happens to the entire system when you push one of its buttons. It's excruciatingly complex, but we are making progress.

How many patents do you and your biotech team hold?
A very large number, and this is important because our investments must be protected. No company will ever invest tens of millions of euros in research and development if it can't enjoy the fruits of its own innovations. In 1998 we launched Crop Design. Last year we sold it to chemical giant BASF, which wants to commercialize our developments together with Monsanto. I expect our first genetically modified high yield crops to be on the market by 2013.

The public doesn't have a problem with genetic experiments in the field of human medicine. But in agriculture this is another matter, especially in Europe.

This is mainly a political problem. A select group of organisations has taken the issue of genetically modified organisms as a rallying point, uses it to scare people and to gain them for their cause. That's their only raison d'être. But you cannot apply the precautionary principle - which tells you to be careful for the effects of innovations and scientific interventions - endlessly. This stifles human progress. There are hundreds of scientific studies which prove our technologies are safe. Each day, hundreds of millions of people eat GMOs. You cannot continue to say that this is dangerous when you see, on a daily basis, that it's not.

Why don't you stress the environmental benefits of GMOs more often?

We try to do this, continuously. But organisations like Greenpeace and others refuse to understand that our technologies serve their cause. Isn't it useful to develop plants that can defend themselves against pests, so that we can radically cut back our use of pesticides? Our products aren't merely commercially interesting, they make sense from an ecological point of view.

Agriculture as it is being practised today can be quite polluting because of the heavy use of fertilizers. Moreover, fertilizers become ever more expensive because of high energy prices. With our technologies we can make agriculture both much cleaner and more efficient.

We are also developing dedicated energy crops for biofuels, which will allow us to make fuels in such a way that they do not impact food markets. This is important to all of us:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Europe remains very skeptical and doesn't seem to be willing to ease its stance on GMOs.
I think things are changing. Europe doesn't have a choice because in the Americas and Asia the technology is gaining ground. Europe will start to lose and suffer if it can't compete in this field.

Some say that large companies are responsible for pushing a complex net of regulations in order to make it impossible for small biotech companies to compete.
This analysis isn't correct, I feel. Look at the pharmaceutical sector: small companies don't get any further than the first stages which consist of testing a new product. It then costs around 1 billion dollars to get such a new product to market. This is too much to ask of small biotech companies. In the agricultural sector it takes about 80 million euros to make something useful out of an innovation. These are gigantic sums of money. The point is that scale-advantages are crucial but can only be reaped by large companies. This trend is irreversible.

Do your patents get attacked?
Yes, all the time. It can take ages before you are granted a patent. My predecessors, professors Marc Van Montagu and Jef Schell, are the founding fathers of plant genetic engineering. Worldwide, some 110 million hectares of land grow crops based on their technologies. But it took them 20 years to get their final patents. Procedural attacks kept delaying the recognition. Only lawyers got better of this. But the simple fact remains: the patent system is the only approach that allows investors to get a return on their investments in this type of research.

But it is very important to understand the following: there is a consensus on the fact that genes as such should not be patentable, only innovations that allow you to work with these genes. The search for ways to side-step the full implications of a patented process often leads to new innovations. This way patents stimulate research, through scientific competitition.

In the patent for so-called 'golden rice' - the crop containing a gene that stimulates the production of the vitamin A precursor - it is stipulated that the technology must be made available for free to developing countries. Is this a good approach?
I think so. Billions of people eat white rice, which doesn't contain sufficient amounts of vitamin A. This can lead to blindness, especially amongst children. By inserting a gene from the wild daffodil into it, the rice produces beta-carotene. All studies demonstrate that this is a very safe product, but still it doesn't find its way to market. Syngenta, which developed the crop, is now offering it for free to countries whose people enjoy average living standards.

But is this profitable? Vitamin A deficiency manifests itself most amongst people in the poorest countries, doesn't it?

This is indeed the case and the return on investment would be low if the crop were to be sold in these countries. The same problem can be found in the field of tropical medicine - drugs are costly to develop but the purchasing power of those who need these medicines is too low to make an investment viable. This is why I think it would be useful to create separate international organisations both in the field of agriculture and in medical sciences to tackle this impasse.

But the third world does have an enormous potential in another sector: the field of bioenergy which must be tapped urgently as an alternative to fossil fuels. Plants convert the greenhouse gas CO2 into food and energy. Many developing countries have suitable agro-climatic conditions and could thus play a key role in producing climate friendly energy.

Shouldn't we be planting more trees here in Europe and Belgium?

Absolutely, that too. At our institute we have developed a fantastic technology to produce bioenergy from poplar trees [note: Inzé and his collegues helped map the genome of the poplar tree - the first tree to have had its entire genetic profile published; the effort was part of the international Joint Genome Institute's research into genomics of bioenergy crops - previous post; on the basis of their research they designed a poplar with low lignin and high biomass yields]. Crops like rapeseed, which receive a lot of attention today, are less interesting for biofuels, because they require too many inputs. A tree grows all by itself. With minimal inputs you get a maximal output. We have now filed for a permission to trial our genetically modified energy poplar in the field.

Aren't you afraid that people will resist this? It's been five years since the last GMO field trials in our country.
Luckily, we play a role on a world scale. Europe's agriculture can only survive because of massive subsidies. If the Union doesn't relax its rules for new technologies, European citizens will no longer be able to buy food. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States, which regulates new technologies and approves new products, is an excellent institution, an oracle of scientific common sense. We urgently need a similar body here in Europe.

Today we are too dependent on the vagaries of idiosyncratic opinions in Europe - of what the German Greens think at a particular moment in time or of a sentiment uttered by the new french President.

Translated from Dutch for Biopact.

sun setting over a sugarcane field in Malawi. A new dawn for Africa?

Dirk Draulans, "Niemand mag genen bezitten" [Nobody should own genes], Knack, pp. 89-94, December 19, 2007.

Biopact: Celebrity spotting: Marc Van Montagu and GM energy crops - July 05, 2007

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

Biopact: Moss genome sequenced: shows how aquatic plants adapted to dry land - key to development of drought-tolerant energy crops, cellulosic biofuels - December 14, 2007

Article continues

NCSU researchers develop 'self-processing' sweet potato for efficient ethanol production

Sweet potatoes are being re-engineered by North Carolina State University (NCSU) scientists as source of ethanol and bioplastics to help the U.S. bioproducts industry’s reliance on corn. The researchers' goal is to embed enzymes straight into the starch-rich tuber, so that it grows its own bioconversion enzymes and processes itself into biofuels. This would be yet another example of 'third generation' energy crops, which are being developed by several biotech firms and science teams (pevious post, here and here).

The industrial sweet potato can produce twice the starch content of corn – the leading source of ethanol in the U.S. Using plants from China, Africa, and South America, the NCSU scientists have created hybrids with starch contents over 50 percent higher than the sweet potatoes most Americans eat. These industrial sweet potatoes are capable of producing 'tremendous amounts of biomass', mostly starch-based. More starch means more sugars that can be fermented into ethanol.

Dr. Craig Yencho, an NC State associate professor of Horticultural Science, who is leading a project to develop alternative uses for the vegetable says the industrial sweet potato is edible, but not palatable. While the table version is orange inside and becomes sweet during baking as enzymes break down starch into sugar, the industrial sweet potato typically has a purple or white skin and white inside with a much higher starch content that limits its sweet taste.

North Carolina produces about 40 percent of the U.S. sweet potato crop. The industrial sweet potato could help diversify the state’s farm income. NCSU has several Potato and Sweetpotato Breeding and Genetics Programs running to research the use of the crop for the production of energy and bioproducts.

The biggest challenge is lowering production costs to take advantage of that higher starch content. Sweet potatoes traditionally are planted by hand using transplants, a process that costs up to 10 times as much as planting corn. But if a technique is developed to plant them the same way Irish potatoes are planted – by planting cut 'seed' pieces and mechanically planting them into the ground - planting costs could be cut in half.

In that case, ethanol production from sweet potatoes then becomes much more cost effective and feasible. Not only would these sweet potatoes be a much more viable ethanol source than corn, but because they are industrial sweet potatoes, farmers wouldn’t be taking away from a food source, says Yencho, who is currently in China helping the world’s number one producer of sweet potatoes tap the crop’s biofuel potential.

'Self-processing' crop
While the best of conventional breeding techniques have been used to develop NC State’s industrial sweet potato, Yencho is also teaming with colleague Bryon Sosinski, an associate professor of horticulture and the director of the Genome Research Lab, on an unconventional approach to further boost sugar – and thus ethanol – yield. Sosinski is trying to insert genes from bacteria that live in the hot waters around thermal vents on the ocean floor into sweet potato plants. The genes are active only at high temperatures, producing enzymes that break starch chains apart into much smaller sugars.

The goal is to produce what Yencho calls a 'self-processing' sweet potato that doesn’t need additives to be prepared for fermentation. The harvested roots could be thrown into a vat, and when the heat is turned up, the internal enzymes would digest the starch to a point where the resulting sugars could be fermented into fuel. Sosinski is now growing genetically modified sweet potato seedlings in the lab, and he hopes to move into greenhouse trials next year and into field plantings within three years:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The special genes used to grow the self-processing tuber would reduce the cost of enzymes that are used by biofuel processors to break down the starch in corn to sugars which are then converted into alcohol by fermentation.

Ultimately, NC State scientists believe the industrial sweet potato can compete with corn – now much cheaper to produce – as a viable alternative source of ethanol. Corn is by far the leading source of ethanol, but corn-based biofuel has come under increasing attack by poverty-fighting and other groups who argue, among other things, that diversion of corn crops for biofuels aggravates world-hunger problems. At the same time, Congress and state legislative leaders concerned about dependence on imported oil are pushing for increased use of biofuels. The new Energy Bill has given the corn ethanol industry a major boost.
There isn’t one magical crop that will solve our energy problems, but the industrial sweet potato can play an important role, especially in the southeastern U.S. where the crop is grown. - Dr. Craig Yencho, NC State associate professor of Horticultural Science
Research into the sweet potato for biofuels has added advantages: it can further enhance its value as a nutritional food staple while simultaneously finding new ways the crop can help replace petroleum as source for industrial products ranging from plastics to natural colorants and high-value specialty chemicals.

And in their zeal to mine the tuber’s variability, Yencho and his team of NC State researchers have created a hybrid intended for neither food nor fuel – the non-bearing “Sweet Caroline” variety developed strictly for ornamental use.

North Carolina State University News: NC State University Researchers Brewing Energy From Sweet Potatoes - November 30, 2007.

NCSU: Brewing Energy from Natural Resources [*.pdf].

North Carolina State University Potato and Sweetpotato Breeding and Genetics Website.

Biopact: Third generation biofuels: scientists patent corn variety with embedded cellulase enzymes - May 05, 2007

Biopact: Syngenta to trial third generation biofuel crop that grows its own bioconversion enzyme - November 12, 2007

Biopact: Agrivida and Codon Devices to partner on third-generation biofuels - August 03, 2007

Article continues

Petrobras to build 10 biodiesel plants by 2012

Petrobras plans to construct as many as 10 biodiesel plants by 2012 as part of a plan to become the leading producer of the fuel in Brazil with an estimated annual output of 850 million liters (224 million gallons).

Currently, the company is finalising the construction of three units that will start to operate in March of 2008, in the states of the Ceará, Minas Gerais and Bahia.

According to Petrobras' director of supply, Pablo Robert Coast, each of the new plants will have capacity of 60 million liters (15.8 million gallons) of biodiesel per year and cost between R$ 60 million and R$ 70 million (€23.2-27 / US$33.3-38.9 million).

From January onwards, all diesel fuel in Brazil is required to have a 2% biodiesel (B2) content. Today (Friday 21 December) the Brazilian government will carry out an auction to purchase biodiesel to supply the market under the new scheme. The objective is to acquire 100 million liters, to be delivered and blended into diesel between January 1 and February 28.

According to Coast, the Brazilian government could decide to start organising auctions based on a B3 target later this year, as a way to stimulate and offer guarantees to biodiesel producers. Under the Pro-Biodiesel plant, the B3 target is foreseen as a step to prepare the market to reach the B5 target to be reached in 2013. Coast says producers anticipate that this target will be reached already in 2010:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The Pro-Biodiesel program is the legacy of president Lula, who, in contrast to the designers of the much older Pro-Alcool program, put social sustainability at the heart of the production chain from the start.

Under a special scheme, biodiesel producers who source their feedstock from small family farms receive incentives and a 'Social Fuel' label. According to the latest estimates the Social Fuel scheme is benefiting some 60,000 rural families in the semi-arid Northeast of the country. They are supported by agricultural experts, organised in cooperatives and registered with the government.

Crops used for the production of first-generation biodiesel are castor, jatropha, palm oil and soybean.

Petrobras meanwhile also developed a next-generation biodiesel production process called 'H-Bio' which consists of hydrogenating vegetable oils at oil refineries. This allows the use of its existing infrastructures instead of the need to build new plants.

O Globo Online: Petrobras pode construir mais 10 unidades de biodiesel para atingir liderança do mercado em 2012 - December 200, 2007.

Biopact: An in-depth look at Brazil's "Social Fuel Seal" - March 23, 2007

Article continues

Southridge Enterprises to build sugarcane ethanol plant in El Salvador

U.S.-based renewable energy company Southridge Enterprises Inc. announces it plans to build an ethanol plant with an annual capacity of 5 million gallons (18.9 million liters) in El Salvador.

The new plant will be constructed on a parcel of land covering around 4,500 acres (1,821 hectares). Southridge was recently granted approval by the local government to lease the land with a purchase option. The land area offers abundant sugar cane production capacity, providing access to sufficient feedstock to supply the proposed 5 million gallon plant at an average yield of between 30 and 40 tons per acre (74 - 98 tonnes/ha).

The site for the plant is located close to a river, making it easily accessible to transport product to an ocean port for transport to the United States.

The initial plan is to build a facility that will have the capacity to dry up to 15 million gallons a year of hydrous ethanol from Brazil to be imported into the United States. In El Salvador the company can benefit from the Caribbean Basins Initiative (CBI), a trade agreement signed in 2000, allowing exports of ethanol without facing the $0.54/gallon tariff.

The second phase would be to build the plant capable of producing 5 million gallons a year of ethanol using sugar cane as feedstock. Having the capability to use feedstock grown and cut straight out its own plantation gives the company a strong advantage.

Bagasse, the fibrous material that remains from sugar cane, will be burned as fuel and cut down energy costs by 75 per cent compared to a plant that would buy energy from elsewhere:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Southridge's CEO, Ken Milken, said "Lower energy and feedstock costs will bring profits to record highs in the industry".

He added that this 'strategic' new facility in El Salvador will allow the company to become one of the lowest cost producers in the industry through the benefits of export incentives and supply of its own raw materials.

The comparative advantage of vertical integration and production diversification will act as a hedge against rising costs and will ensure the stability of future production levels.

Southridge is currently developing another ethanol facility in Quitman County Mississippi for a total annual production of 60 million gallons.


Trading Markets: Southridge Enterprises Inc to construct ethanol facility in El Salvador - December 20, 2007.

Energy Current: Southridge building ethanol plant in El Savador - December 21, 2007.

Article continues

Report: CHP to power corn ethanol production boosts energy balance of fuel, reduces emissions

One of the reasons why Brazil's sugarcane ethanol has such a strong energy balance and low carbon emissions profile is to be found in the fact that biomass (bagasse) is used as the energy source to power the production of the fuel. The renewable biomass cogenerates both heat and power to the biofuel plant, with excess electricity sold to the grid. Now a report by the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) CHP Partnership shows that the adoption of combined heat and power (CHP) can achieve similar benefits in dry mill corn ethanol plants. CHP can reduce total energy use by up to 55% over state-of-the-art dry mill ethanol plants that purchase central station power, and can result in negative net CO2 emissions depending upon the fuel type used and CHP configuration.

The revised report, 'Impact of Combined Heat and Power on Energy Use and Carbon Emissions in the Dry Mill Ethanol Process' [*.pdf], includes updated data on energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions for state-of-the-art dry mill ethanol plants fueled by natural gas, coal, and biomass with and without CHP systems.

Dry milling has become the primary production process for corn ethanol. In the process, whole dry kernels are milled and sent to fermenters where the starch portion is fermented into ethanol. The remaining, unfermentable portions are produced as distilled grains and solubles (DGS) and used for animal feed.

Most dry mill ethanol plants use natural gas as the process fuel for raising steam for mash cooking, distillation, and evaporation. It is also used directly in DGS dryers and in thermal oxidizers that destroy the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) present in the dryer exhaust.

Although new plants use only about half of the energy used by the earliest ethanol plants, the rising price of natural gas is pushing the industry to explore other means to cut energy consumption, or to switch from natural gas to other fuels such as coal, wood chips, or even the use of DGS and other process byproducts.

The report evaluated five CHP system configurations and compared them to three base-case non-CHP ethanol plants (powered by natural-gas, coal and biomass).
Case 1: Natural gas in a gas turbine/supplemental-fired heat recovery steam generator (HRSG)—Electric output sized to meet plant demand; supplemental firing needed in the HRSG to augment steam recovered from the gas turbine exhaust.
Case 2: Natural gas in gas turbine with power export—Thermal output sized to meet plant steam load without supplemental firing; excess power generated for export.

Case 3: Natural gas in a gas turbine/steam turbine with power export (combined cycle)—Thermal output sized to meet plant steam load without supplemental firing; steam turbine added to generate additional power from high-pressure steam before going to process; maximum power generated for export.

Case 4: Coal CHP, High-pressure fluidized bed coal boiler with steam turbine generator—Exhaust from steam-heated DDGS dryer integrated into the boiler intake for combustion air and VOC destruction.

Case 5: Biomass CHP, High-pressure fluidized bed biomass boiler with steam turbine generator—Exhaust from steam-heated DDGS dryer integrated into the boiler intake for combustion air and VOC destruction:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

In all cases, fuel consumption at the plant increases with the use of CHP. However, total net fuel consumption is reduced, as electricity generated by the CHP systems displaces less efficient central station power (graph 1, click to enlarge). In the two natural gas CHP cases with excess power available for export (Cases 2 and 3), the displaced central station fuel represents a significant credit against increased fuel use at the plant. The total fuel savings for Cases 2 and 3 are 44 percent and 55 percent, respectively, over the natural gas base case.

Total CO2 emissions are reduced for all CHP cases compared to their respective base case plants. Total net CO2 emissions in Case 2 represent an 87% reduction compared to the natural gas base case. Total plant CO2 emissions for Case 3 are actually less than the displaced central station emissions, resulting in a negative (-0.71 pounds per gallon) net CO2 emissions rate compared to the base case. The lowest net CO2 emissions at the plant are obtained when biomass is used as the fuel (graph 2, click to enlarge).

The report is set to undermine many of the critiques leveled against corn ethanol. Some have argued that the biofuel - as it is currently produced - requires more energy to produce than consumers get out of it and that it doesn't contribute much to lowering carbon emissions. But when efficient cogeneration is used as the power and heat source to drive processes at the plant, both the energy and GHG balance of the fuel improves considerably.

Add the fact that in the future CO2 from the fermentation of ethanol will be captured and geosequestered, and the carbon balance of the fuel improves still further. Just recently, the US Department of Energy announced it is funding such a project.


EPA CHP Partnership: Impact of Combined Heat and Power on Energy Use and Carbon Emissions in the Dry Mill Ethanol Process [*.pdf] - November 2007.

Biopact: Towards carbon-negative biofuels: US DOE awards $66.7 million for large-scale CO2 capture and storage from ethanol plant - December 19, 2007

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