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    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.

    In just four months, the use of biodiesel in the transport sector has substantially improved air quality in Metro Manila, data from the Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) showed. A blend of one percent coco-biodiesel is mandated by the Biofuels Act of 2007 which took effect last May. By 2009, it would be increased to two percent. Philippine Star - December 4, 2007.

    Kazakhstan will next year adopt laws to regulate its fledgling biofuel industry and plans to construct at least two more plants in the next 18 months to produce environmentally friendly fuel from crops, industry officials said. According to Akylbek Kurishbayev, vice-minister for agriculture, he Central Asian country has the potential to produce 300,000 tons a year of biodiesel and export half. Kazakhstan could also produce up to 1 billion liters of bioethanol, he said. "The potential is huge. If we use this potential wisely, we can become one of the world's top five producers of biofuels," Beisen Donenov, executive director of the Kazakhstan Biofuels Association, said on the sidelines of a grains forum. Reuters - November 30, 2007.

    SRI Consulting released a report on chemicals from biomass. The analysis highlights six major contributing sources of green and renewable chemicals: increasing production of biofuels will yield increasing amounts of biofuels by-products; partial decomposition of certain biomass fractions can yield organic chemicals or feedstocks for the manufacture of various chemicals; forestry has been and will continue to be a source of pine chemicals; evolving fermentation technology and new substrates will also produce an increasing number of chemicals. Chemical Online - November 27, 2007.

    German industrial conglomerate MAN AG plans to expand into renewable energies such as biofuels and solar power. Chief Executive Hakan Samuelsson said services unit Ferrostaal would lead the expansion. Reuters - November 24, 2007.

    Analysts think Vancouver-based Ballard Power Systems, which pumped hundreds of millions and decades of research into developing hydrogen fuel cells for cars, is going to sell its automotive division. Experts describe the development as "the death of the hydrogen highway". The problems with H2 fuel cell cars are manifold: hydrogen is a mere energy carrier and its production requires a primary energy input; production is expensive, as would be storage and distribution; finally, scaling fuel cells and storage tanks down to fit in cars remains a huge challenge. Meanwhile, critics have said that the primary energy for hydrogen can better be used for electricity and electric vehicles. On a well-to-wheel basis, the cleanest and most efficient way to produce hydrogen is via biomass, so the news is a set-back for the biohydrogen community. But then again, biomass can be used more efficiently as electricity for battery cars. Canada.com - November 21, 2007.

    South Korea plans to invest 20 billion won (€14.8/$21.8 million) by 2010 on securing technologies to develop synthetic fuels from biomass, coal and natural gas, as well as biobutanol. 29 private companies, research institutes and universities will join this first stage of the "next-generation clean energy development project" led by South Korea's Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy. Korea Times - November 19, 2007.

    OPEC leaders began a summit today with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez issuing a chilling warning that crude prices could double to US$200 from their already-record level if the United States attacked Iran or Venezuela. He urged assembled leaders from the OPEC, meeting for only the third time in the cartel's 47-year history, to club together for geopolitical reasons. But the cartel is split between an 'anti-US' block including Venezuela, Iran, and soon to return ex-member Ecuador, and a 'neutral' group comprising most Gulf States. France24 - November 17, 2007.

    The article "Biofuels: What a Biopact between North and South could achieve" published in the scientific journal Energy Policy (Volume 35, Issue 7, 1 July 2007, Pages 3550-3570) ranks number 1 in the 'Top 25 hottest articles'. The article was written by professor John A. Mathews, Macquarie University (Sydney, Autralia), and presents a case for a win-win bioenergy relationship between the industrialised and the developing world. Mathews holds the Chair of Strategic Management at the university, and is a leading expert in the analysis of the evolution and emergence of disruptive technologies and their global strategic management. ScienceDirect - November 16, 2007.

Creative Commons License

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

EU could ban its own biofuels and be forced to import all fuels from poor countries

In a twist of irony, if the European Parliament and environmentalists have things their way, they could be banning the bulk of biofuels produced in Europe and the US, slow the fight against climate change, promote fossil fuels that pump out more emissions, and force the Union to import all its biofuels from countries like Brazil, Congo or Mozambique. The entire 10 per cent target. These are some of the consequences of a campaign not thought out all that well.

The Parliament wants biofuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions minimally by 50 percent compared with fossil fuels. This means that a large number of 'first generation' fuels will not qualify as biofuels, even if they reduce emissions and help in the fight against climate change. The few that do, are cellulosic biofuels, which are not produced on a large scale yet, and fuels made from efficient tropical and subtropical crops. Almost none of the European or North American biofuels would meet the target.

Of course, almost all current biofuel production systems could greatly improve their GHG emissions reduction profile with relatively low-cost interventions. To cite just one example: if corn ethanol plants in the US were to use biomass co-generation instead of coal-based electricity or natural gas to power their production processes - as is done in Brazil's cane ethanol sector - they would slash off a significant bit of their emissions and the fuel would suddenly become considerably greener (earlier post). Many other of these efficiency and low carbon interventions can be readily applied; energy prices need to increase just a bit to make them commercially feasible.

Over the longer term, some biofuels - like biohydrogen - can even become carbon negative by coupling their production to carbon capture and storage (CCS). In that case, they would be taking CO2 out of the atmosphere. They would not merely be reducing emissions by 100%. They would go beyond that, yield 'negative emissions' and become the most radical tool in the fight against climate change. No other form of renewable energy - wind, solar, tidal, geothermal, hydro - can ever achieve this. These energy sources remain perpetually carbon neutral.

But let's not take these exciting future prospects into account - some impatient and shortsighted environmentalists refuse to look beyond today, so let us do the same, for the sake of this exercise. Let's stick to biofuels as they are currently produced, and to the legitimate critiques leveled against them.

Absurd consequences

In that case, the EP's high and arbitrary goal could have some very strange consequences that border on the absurd. The target would imply biofuels that reduce CO2 emissions by 49.9 per cent and thus contribute in a serious way to mitigating climate change, would be banned. Imagine a fuel that would be produced in a highly environmentally friendly manner (e.g. based on herbaceous crops that slow down erosion, restore soil health, reduce nitrogen runoff and enhance biodiversity), with the fuel cutting emissions almost in half. That would be a major feat and would obviously be promoted by any rational and environmentally conscious human being. Well, for the EP and some environmentalists, such a fuel wouldn't be good enough and it would be excluded.

More logical would be to demand that a biofuel reduces emissions - plain and simple. Even if the fuel reduces CO2 by only 5%, it would still help in the fight against climate change. And all help, no matter how small, is welcome, or so we are told in other contexts.

When a low target is set - say 5%, that is, the fuel still combats climate change - a very wide range of fuels would be allowed on the market, and a flourishing biofuels industry would emerge, with many vehicles utilizing it - all contributing their bit to fighting global warming. But the EP chooses another logic: only to allow a very small number of fuels that reduce emissions radically. It is not clear which of the two strategies is the smartest, but chances are that with the EP's proposal, the EU will not see the development of a biofuels industry at all for the coming two decades, and would thus be forced to keep utilizing only fossil fuels. That would be a disastrous and absurd consequence of this high target, demanded by people who call themselves green.

This is why the European Commission is likely to propose a more rational emissions goal for biofuels - in the order of a reduction of 25 per cent. The graph shows which fuels would survive under both targets. Note that there are many different lifecycle analyses of biofuels, all coming to different conclusions with regard to the carbon balance. We took a study that is widely considered to be one of the most stringent and comprehensive ones: "A Life Cycle Assessment of Energy Products: Environmental Impact Assessment of Biofuels" (*.pdf: German, French, English), authored by Rainer Zah, Heinz Böni, Marcel Gauch, Roland Hischier, Martin Lehmann, and Patrick Wäger, all working for the Technology and Society Lab of the Swiss Federal Institute for Materials Science and Technology, and published in September 2007. The graph breaks down the emissions released during each step in the production process, field-to-wheel.

European Parliament target: under the 50% reduction target (red line) allmost all conventional types of biodiesel and ethanol produced both in the EU and the US would be banned, except for cellulosic ethanol (from wood and grass) and ethanol made from sugarbeets. Corn ethanol as produced in the US, as well Europe's own grain and potato based alcohol would be banned. All types of biodiesel would fail to qualify, except for biodiesel made from palm oil when processing residues are used for the production of energy as is done in Brazil with bagasse (not shown in the graph). The other exception is methyl ester obtained from waste cooking oil. Europe's very own large rapeseed-based biodiesel industry would have to be closed down.

For biogas, the EP target would have some bizarre consequences: methane recovered from organic waste would not qualify as a biofuel for transport, even though it has lower emissions than natural gas, which is already a relatively low carbon fuel. Likewise, methane captured from sewage sludge and used for transport energy would not qualify. Only methane from wood (bio-SNG) and biogas made from manure in highly optimised systems, or from manure with an efficient energy crop co-substrate would be retained. The emerging biogas sector based on abundant, ordinary grass crops would not be allowed to sell its gas as a transport biofuel because it reduces emissions only by up to 30% compared with natural gas. 30% is not 50%.

Ironically, contrary to fuels grown in temperate climes, biofuels made in subtropical and tropical countries will definitely qualify as biofuels - at least on the emissions front. For the alcohol fuels, these are: ethanol from sweet sorghum and sugarcane; for biodiesel, certain types of palm oil fuel but only when the residual biomass is used for the production of energy and when the crop is grown in Africa or Latin America on non-forest land. Perhaps jatropha based biodiesel would make it for emissions, but harvesting the seeds of this shrub is not likely to be mechanised anywhere soon and is in fact so labor intensive that it would probably not meet the social sustainability criteria that will be included in the revised directive - jatropha requires slave-like cheap labor.

European Commission target (blue line) - likely to be a 25% CO2 reduction: under this more rational goal, a wider group of biofuels that reduce emissions would be allowed onto the market as green fuels:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Amongst the biodiesel crops, rapeseed would be back in business, but only under certain production schemes and in certain places. Palm oil would be in, as would U.S. soybean based diesel. Soy from Brazil results in emissions that are always too high, because the crop is grown on forest land.

Under the 25% target, ethanol would come from a wide variety of sources. Only U.S. corn ethanol would be banned, as would alcohol from potatoes and rye.

For biogas, the highly efficient grass based biogas production systems that are springing up across Europe would be retained, as would biogas from sewage sludge and from organic waste.

In short, these different targets would result in radically diverging consequences. Under the stringent goal, Europe would have to close virtually its entire existing biofuels sector and import everything from countries in Africa and Latin America, provided the fuels are produced in a socially sustainable way. It would be banning all fuels that reduce emissions by less than 50%, including those that achieve an interesting 49%.

Under the Commission's likely target, a wider range of biofuels would become available and all of them would help reduce carbon dioxide emissions substantially, but not necessarily radically. Not all of them would be as efficient as sugarcane ethanol, but at least some crops grown in Europe would be allowed to participate in the market. Efficient grass based biogas refineries would also be allowed in - which would be a rather rational thing to do.

The trick of anti-biofuels advocates will be to ask that all biofuels that do not reduce emissions by more than 50% be banned, and then to design social and environmental sustainability criteria so stringent as to ban all remaining biofuels. This is the strategy of those who could be denying developing countries one of the few historic opportunities they have to lift themselves out of poverty. This is a logic that could have the perverse effect of speeding up climate change.

The new directive will be published next week, January 23.


Blogger rufus said...

Them Oil Companies ain't to be underestimated, are they?

We're getting ready to have another fight in the States over the Ethanol Tariff. If the anti-ethanol crowd wins it will, in all likelihood, completely end the development of biofuels in the U.S.

They Might win.

2:25 AM  
Blogger Biopact team said...

That's unlikely, Rufus. What first generation biofuel producers will do, including corn ethanol producers, is simply to utilize biomass as their fuel source to power their production process. As done in Brazil. This changes the picture.

In the article we merely tried to point at some of the absurdities of the current debate. Very few people take a long-term outlook.

In any case, the criticisms against current biofuel production processes is useful: it prompts the sector to look for ways to green itself further. The CHP intervention would be one example.

4:12 AM  
Blogger rufus said...

Guys, no one in their right mind will finance a new refinery in the U.S. (corn, cellulosic, or any other kind) if they have to compete against $0.90/gal Brazilian Cane.

There will be NO political will to go beyond a 10% mandate, and the jig will be up. Our present corn refineries will slowly go out of business, and what little downward influence we might have been able to exert on the price of oil will be long gone.

It won't be pretty.

4:46 AM  
Blogger jcwinnie said...

With filthy coal politics such as they are, those nasty greenie-weenies are stretching with other measures in a mistaken belief that life as we know it on the planet can be saved from anthropogenic GHG emissions.

8:55 PM  

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