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    Toyota Tsusho Corp., Ohta Oil Mill Co. and Toyota Chemical Engineering Co., say it and two other firms have jointly developed a technology to produce biodiesel fuel at lower cost. Biodiesel is made by blending methanol into plant-derived oil. The new technology requires smaller amounts of methanol and alkali catalysts than conventional technologies. In addition, the new technology makes water removal facilities unnecessary. JCN Network - January 22, 2007.

    Finland's Metso Paper and SWISS COMBI - W. Kunz dryTec A.G. have entered a licence agreement for the SWISS COMBI belt dryer KUVO, which allows biomass to be dried in a low temperature environment and at high capacity, both for pulp & paper and bioenergy applications. Kauppalehti - January 22, 2007.

    Record warm summers cause extreme ice melt in Greenland: an international team of scientists, led by Dr Edward Hanna at the University of Sheffield, has found that recent warm summers have caused the most extreme Greenland ice melting in 50 years. The new research provides further evidence of a key impact of global warming and helps scientists place recent satellite observations of Greenland´s shrinking ice mass in a longer-term climatic context. Findings are published in the 15 January 2008 issue of Journal of Climate. University of Sheffield - January 15, 2007.

    Japan's Tsukishima Kikai Co. and Marubeni Corp. have together clinched an order from Oenon Holdings Inc. for a plant that will make bioethanol from rice. The Oenon group will invest around 4.4 billion yen (US$40.17 million) in the project, half of which will be covered by a subsidy from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. The plant will initially produce bioethanol from imported rice, with plans to use Hokkaido-grown rice in the future. It will produce 5 million liters per year starting in 2009, increasing output to 15m liters in 2011. The facility will be able to produce as much as 50,000 liters of bioethanol from 125 tons of rice each day. Trading Markets - January 11, 2007.

    PetroSun, Inc. announced today that its subsidiary, PetroSun BioFuels Refining, has entered into a JV to construct and operate a biodiesel refinery near Coolidge, Arizona. The feedstock for the refinery will be algal oil produced by PetroSun BioFuels at algae farms to be located in Arizona. The refinery will have a capacity of thirty million gallons and will produce 100% renewable biodiesel. PetroSun BioFuels will process the residual algae biomass into ethanol. MarketWire - January 10, 2007.

    BlueFire Ethanol Fuels Inc, which develops and operates carbohydrate-based transportation fuel production facilities, has secured capital liquidity for corporate overhead and continued project development in the value of US$15 million with Quercus, an environmentally focused trust. BlueFire Ethanol Fuels - January 09, 2007.

    Some $170 billion in new technology development projects, infrastructure equipment and construction, and biofuel refineries will result from the ethanol production standards contained the new U.S. Energy Bill, says BIO, the global Biotechnology Industry Organization. According to Brent Erickson, BIO's executive vice president "Such a new energy infrastructure has not occurred in more than 100 years. We are at the point where we were in the 1850s when kerosene was first distilled and began to replace whale oil. This technology will be coming so fast that what we say today won't be true in two years." Chemical & Engineering News - January 07, 2007.

    Scottish and Southern Energy plc, the UK's second largest power company, has completed the acquisition of Slough Heat and Power Ltd from SEGRO plc for a total cash consideration of £49.25m. The 101MW CHP plant is the UK’s largest dedicated biomass energy facility fueled by wood chips, biomass and waste paper. Part of the plant is contracted under the Non Fossil Fuel Obligation and part of it produces over 200GWH of output qualifying for Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs), which is equivalent to around 90MW of wind generation. Scottish & Southern Energy - January 2, 2007.

    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.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Bioenergy patents top list of renewable energy inventions

The maturity of an industrial sector can often be measured by a declining number of patents granted to researchers working in it. The other way around, fledgling industries often see a boom of creativity, new possibilities and consequently, inventions. The renewable energy sector is one such a 'niche' that is pulling in some of the brightest minds in science, engineering, technology and business. This dynamic is often expressed in the sheer number of new patents being granted, even though a patent is no guarantee for breakthroughs. Nonetheless, in our modern R&D and market driven universe, they are a good indicator of what's going on in an industry.

Ronald Kamis and Mandar Joshi analysed the number of patents granted to researchers in renewable energy technologies, and found that the bioenergy and bioproducts segment by far tops the list, pulling in more patents than solar and wind combined. This may indicate it is a young industry that allows scope for efficiency improvements and new applications, but it is also testimony to the fact that biomass is simply a very versatile natural resource. An entire green and renewable 'bioeconomy' can be build around the raw material.

The green stuff can be turned into a myriad of energy products: solid fuels for electricity production, liquid biofuels, gaseous fuels (such as biohydrogen or biogas) or even directly into electricity via microbial fuel cells. A great variety of thermochemical and biochemical conversion processes are being developed to achieve this, in new integrated facilities dubbed 'biorefineries'. In such refineries, biomass is also set to play an important role in green chemistry, yielding hundreds of sustainable and renewable products that used to be made of oil and gas. Finally, agribiotechnology is leading to the development of new crops designed as highly efficient biomass crops, and often made in such a way that their very properties match the requirements of a specific bioconversion process.

Add that biomass will be applied in carbon-negative energy applications that take CO2 out of the atmosphere - both biochar ('terra preta') and geosequestration - and you have another area of ongoing research that is yielding innovations.

Kamis and Joshi found that over the last six years, a total of 2,796 biofuel related patents were published in the U.S., with the number increasing by over 150 percent in each of the past two years. In 2007, the number of biofuel patents (1,045) was more than the combined total of solar power (555) and wind power (282) patents published in that year.

From the biofuel related patents published in 2006 to 2007, they analyzed the following technologies: agricultural biotechnology, biodiesel, biomass, ethanol and other alcohols, and enzymes. The number of patents published in these technologies in 2006 - 2007 was biodiesel (299), agricultural biotechnology (110), ethanol and other alcohols (42), enzymes (35) and biomass (41).

The investigators also assessed the number of cellulosic related patents published in 2006 to 2007 and found the following distribution: biodiesel (1), agricultural biotechnology (1), ethanol and other alcohols (4), enzymes (5) and biomass (5). Broken down by ownership entity, the patents published in the selected technologies in 2006 to 2007 were 57 percent owned by corporate entities, 11 percent owned by universities or other academic institutions and 32 percent undesignated, where the patent applications do not list the patent owner.

Biofuel patents around the globe
The five countries, by location of the patent owning entity, with the highest number of biofuel patents in 2006 to 2007 were the U.S. (184), Germany (34), Japan (14), Italy (10) and France (10). In the U.S., the patents were owned by 78 different entities. In Germany, Japan, Italy and France, the corresponding number was 14, 12, 14 and 5:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

In the U.S., the five states with the highest number of biofuel patents were Missouri (41), California (25), Iowa (15), Illinois (13) and Minnesota (11). In Missouri, biofuel patents were owned by seven different entities. In California, Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota, the corresponding number was 14, 1, 6 and 5.

Kamis and Joshi's review has left them with the following impressions. First, if assumed that biofuel, solar power and wind power are the leading renewable energy technologies, then in 2007 biofuel patents clearly dominate renewable energy, in terms of sheer numbers. Moreover, if assumed that biodiesel and ethanol and other alcohols are the leading biofuel technologies, then in 2007 biodiesel came in first place, with ethanol and other alcohols being a far second.

Looking to the future, as venture funding and government funding inside and outside of the U.S. increases, they expect that the number of biofuel patents will continue to grow steadily.

In the U.S. alone in 2007, venture entities invested $2.9 billion into the biofuel industry. This amount is expected to increase significantly within the country and around the world in the coming years. In addition, the U.S. federal government has allocated, for 2008 to 2015, $500 million in grants under the Energy Independence and Security act of 2007 to promote the development of advanced biofuels.

They also expect that the number of agricultural biotechnology biofuel patents will significantly increase in the coming years as transgenic plant technology is directed to biofuel applications. In the future, it can be expected that legislation directed to climate change will strongly influence biofuel patents. For example, the recently enacted Energy Independence and Security act of 2007 requires that 16 billion gallons of U.S. transportation fuel be cellulosic biofuel by 2022. The act requires that by 2022, 21 billion gallons of U.S. transportation fuel be derived from sources other than traditional ethanol biofuel.

Accordingly, in the coming years, Kamis and Joshi see an increase in cellulosic biofuel patents, and we also expect that traditional ethanol biofuel patents will continue to lag behind biodiesel patents in the future.

: Dupont researcher investigating biobutanol. Credit: Dupont.


Exchange Magazine (Environment, Science & Technology): Biofuel patents are booming - January 22, 2007.


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