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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.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

GM and Coskata claim cellulosic ethanol has arrived: gasification-fermentation process yields biofuel for under $1 per gallon

General Motors announced a partnership with Coskata Inc., both claiming that affordable cellulosic ethanol production has arrived today. Coskata's innovative gasification-biofermentation process efficiently makes the biofuel from practically any source of biomass for under a dollar per gallon. If true, the breakthrough would at once change the perspective on many of the constraints lodged against current biofuel options, including environmental, transportation and land use concerns. It would end the artificial food versus fuel debate (at least on a conceptual level), and open up whole new era of highly efficient biofuels with low to no environmental impacts. Biofuels can then really begin take on their major role as one of the leading instruments in the fight against climate change and energy insecurity.

Coskata’s process is feedstock flexible, and enables the use of cost-effective, locally abundant materials to achieve the lowest ethanol production cost targets in the industry: cellulosic ethanol for less than $1 per gallon (less than 20 eurocent/liter), about half of today’s cost of producing gasoline. This is the magical barrier for next-generation biofuels.

Using patented microorganisms and transformative bioreactor designs, Coskata ethanol is produced via a unique three-step conversion process that turns virtually any carbon-based feedstock, including biomass, municipal solid waste, bagasse and other agricultural waste into ethanol, making production a possibility in almost any geography and allowing for the use of vast non-food biomass resources. Coskata’s process technology is ethanol-specific and enzyme independent, requiring no additional chemicals or pre-treatments.

The process is based the following steps:
  1. gasification: cracking the carbon-hydrogen bonds in the biomass feedstock via thermochemical transformation - plasma-gasification - of biomass into syngas
  2. fermentation: instead of using catalysts to turn the syngas into fuels, Coskata's process relies on fermentation by bacteria (biofermentation) using proprietary microorganisms; the organisms are extremely efficient, utilizing the entire energy value of available input material to produce ethanol. This is a significant advantage over other approaches that only use a fraction of this energy due to their inability to utilize all portions of biomass input material and/or result in non-ethanol byproducts hurting efficiencies. Some ethanol conversion processes use a gasification front-end and chemical catalysis for conversion, producing a mix of alcohols from methanol to pentanol and beyond, resulting in considerable separations and/or recycling costs as well as decreased yield. Ethanol conversion using chemical catalysts requires extremely pure syngas streams, as impurities readily degrade the catalysts. Not only are these catalysts expensive, but the high purity requirements of the syngas stream results in greater capital intensity. Additionally, chemical catalysis approaches require syngas compression in preparation for the high-pressure alcohol synthesis operation. Chemical catalysis is also inefficient with regard to energy and carbon dioxide. It requires a specific ratio of CO:H2 to make ethanol. These ratios are not found in nature, and require an energy consuming "water shift" reaction to make ethanol. Coskata's biofermentation step avoids these higher-cost complexities: (1) during biofermentation, Coskata's naturally occurring microorganisms - some of the oldest biological mechanisms in existence - use the chemical energy of syngas (CO and/or H2) to exclusively produce ethanol; (2) Coskata microorganisms have demonstrated a level of tolerance to typical syngas impurities that poison a chemical conversion approach. Together, Coskata's proprietary microorganisms and bioreactor designs lead to the highest conversion rates of feedstock to ethanol in the industry, as well as greater resistance to phage infections and bacterial contaminants.
  3. separation: after the bacterial fermentation to ethanol, the ethanol must be separated out of the solution mixture and converted into a fuel-grade ethanol at 99+% purity. As syngas fermentation leads to lower ethanol concentrations than corn fermentations, the energy and cost to separate the ethanol from water is proportionally higher. To reduce this differential, Coskata has exclusively licensed membrane separation technology to reduce the energy requirements by over 50%. This vapor permeation process is amenable to separating ethanol from biofermentation broth because of the very low solids content of the broth relative to other fermentation processes.
According to Argonne National Laboratory, which analyzed Coskata’s process, for every unit of energy used, it generates up to 7.7 times that amount of energy, and it reduces CO2 emissions by up to 84 percent compared with a well-to-wheel analysis of gasoline. Coskata’s process uses less than a gallon of water to make a gallon of ethanol compared with three gallons or more for other processes:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Our technology and proprietary process have been validated by some of the world’s most renowned research labs, universities and energy companies. Coskata is poised to revolutionize the ethanol industry with the backing of GM and our partners. Together, we can make ethanol a viable transportation fuel with production costs of under $1 per gallon. - Bill Roe, CEO of Coskata
One of the criticisms of cellulosic ethanol is that its development is supposedly several years away. Coskata CEO and President Bill Roe says the next generation ethanol is here today.
We will have our first commercial-scale plant making 50 to 100 million gallons of ethanol running in 2011, and that includes the two years it will take to build the plant. Success in delivering on our business plan means that we could account for a significant portion of the biomass ethanol mandated in the new [U.S.] Renewable Fuels Standard within 10 years. - Bill Roe
Coskata was initially formed with funding from Advanced Technology Ventures (ATV), GreatPoint Ventures and Khosla Ventures:
As a nation, we’ve been dependent on oil for so long, we continue to think we will be dependent on oil to meet our future energy needs. Scientists, technologists and entrepreneurs like Coskata are here to prove it doesn’t have to be this way. With the development of an economically-viable ethanol solution, Coskata has the propensity to change the types of fuel consumers find at the pump – providing fuel derived from widely-available national resources, rather than foreign imports. - Vinod Khosla of Khosla Ventures
GM’s partnership with Coskata to commercialize its unique process for turning biomass into ethanol is signals GM’s interest in making ethanol more available by promoting ethanol production technology and infrastructure.

Coskata, based in Warrenville, IL, can use its technology practically anywhere in the world that a carbon-based feedstock is available. For GM, this could lead to joint efforts in markets such as China, where growing energy demand and a new energy research center could jumpstart a significant effort into ethanol made from biomass. More immediately, GM will receive the first ethanol from Coskata’s pilot plant in the fourth quarter of 2008. The fuel will be used in testing vehicles at GM’s Milford Proving Grounds:

In the U.S., GM has more than 2.5 million flex-fuel models on the road and is committed to making half its production flex-fuel capable by 2012. GM sells 11 E85-capable models this year and will increase that to more than 15 models for the 2009 model year.

The next logical step was making the fuel more readily available. GM has worked in partnerships with businesses, universities and non-governmental organizations over the last two years to grow the U.S. infrastructure for E85, helping to open 300 fueling stations in 15 states.

The timing of the GM-Coskata partnership coincides with President Bush’s signing of the Energy Independence and Security Act last month, which calls for a dramatic increase in biofuels – from 7.5 billion gallons in 2012 to 36 billion gallons in 2022. Corn- and other grain-based ethanol are expected to account for up to 15 billion gallons of that new standard with 21 billion gallons coming from cellulosic and biomass sources.

The partnership includes an undisclosed equity stake for GM, joint research and development into emissions technology and investigation into making ethanol from GM facilities’ waste and non-recyclable vehicle parts.

The Coskata partnership also builds on GM’s activities in automotive fuels development and testing that include research and development of unleaded fuels in conjunction with the development of the catalytic converter, and early formulations of ethanol.
We believe ethanol used as a fuel, not just as a gasoline additive, is the best near-term alternative to the surging global demand for oil because ethanol is renewable and it significantly reduces CO2 emissions compared to gasoline. Best of all, it is available today. - Beth Lowery, GM vice president, Environment, Energy and Safety Policy
The U.S. is the largest market using fuels blended with ethanol; however, its use as a fuel source is gaining global popularity as a more environmentally responsible option to petroleum-based fuels. GM has developed market-specific engines and vehicles that allow consumers to benefit from the use of earth-friendly ethanol fuels produced and available in their country.

Brazil is the best example of the market potential for alternative fuels. Since 1975, Brazil has been using ethanol made from sugar cane to create self-sufficiency in motor vehicle fuels. GM has been a leader in flexible-fuel powertrains in the Brazilian market. These are vehicles capable of operating on any blend of gasoline and ethanol, up to 100 percent ethanol.

The Saab 9-5 BioPower is another example of GM applying its ethanol learnings globally. During the development of BioPower, Swedish engineers teamed with their GM colleagues in Brazil to transfer knowledge of flex fuels. As a result, Saab now leads the European premium car segment in offering the 9-5 BioPower model, which accounts for 70 percent of all 9-5 sales.

GM: GM Extends Biofuels Leadership With Coskata Partnership - January 13, 2008.

Coskata: Coskata, Inc. Introduces Next Generation Ethanol – Technology to Produce Ethanol for Less Than a Dollar per Gallon - January 13, 2008


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