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    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 08, 2008

Study: net energy from switchgrass based cellulosic ethanol much higher than thought

A large scale five-year trial of switchgrass as a bioenergy crop on farmland in the Midwestern United States found that when the perennial is converted into cellulosic ethanol it yields 540% more renewable energy than the non-renewable energy put into producing the fuel. This is a considerbly higher yield than previous estimates which were based on small scale research plots (smaller than 5m²) and on estimated inputs, suggesting switchgrass would result in a net energy production of about 343%. The results from the large scale field trials also prove that mere simulations made by researchers like Pimental and Patzek, often quoted by biofuel critics, are highly inaccurate.

Based on the new results, the scientists write that switchgrass based cellulosic ethanol is a highly energy efficient biofuel, results in strong net GHG emission reductions and provides major other environmental benefits such as soil conservation. Kenneth Vogel at the US Department of Agriculture and the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and his colleagues report their findings in an open access article [*.pdf] in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The research team managed switchgrass as a biomass energy crop in field trials of 3–9 hectares on marginal cropland on 10 farms to determine net energy and economic costs based on known farm inputs and harvested yields. Cooperating farmers in the project were paid for their work and land use and documented all production operations and field biomass yields. The study provided five years of production and management information from each farm, which the researchers used to estimate net energy, petroleum inputs to ethanol outputs, and GHG emissions.

Inputs and Net Energy Value
Agricultural energy inputs - fertilizer, herbicides, diesel fuel, seed - for the switchgrass fields based on actual farm inputs were lower than in previous switchgrass life cycle analysis studies, because diesel usage, fertilizer requirements, electricity rates, and machinery costs in the previous studies were largely based on estimated values, not on real trials.

The NEV (output energy–input energy) from switchgrass in the Great Plains varied with year of production and ethanol yield but exceeded 14.5 MJ/liter ethanol for all harvest years. NEV were consistent across locations, averaging 21.5 MJ/liter ethanol. These results were intermediate to previously simulated switchgrass energy balance studies. Ethanol yield was sensitive to climatic conditions and stand age more than agricultural inputs, which differs from prior studies that assumed a linear response of switchgrass ethanol yield to agricultural inputs.

Switchgrass, a perennial, does not achieve full biomass yield potential until one to two growing seasons after establishment. Proper agronomic practices with normal climatic conditions can result in establishment year biomass yields of 50% of full yield potential. Switchgrass, in long-term evaluations (more than 10 years), has been shown to have consistent biomass yields over time when stands are mature.

Bioenergy efficiency was also evaluated as an ethanol output (MJ)/petroleum input (MJ) ratio (PER) for the production, refining, and distribution phases. All previous switchgrass studies have reported that, under most ethanol yield projections, the amount of energy from ethanol produced from switchgrass biomass exceeds petroleum consumed. In this multifarm trial, switchgrass produced an estimated average 13.1 MJ ethanol for every MJ of petroleum input. The new analysis showed that at ethanol yields of 3500 liter/ha, PER surpassed all previous estimates. Establishment and second-year stands had the lowest PER, a result of tillage, seeding, and harvesting energy costs with reduced biomass yields. There was a linear relationship between ethanol yield and PER for all harvest years. However, linear trends by harvest year declined over time, suggesting that, on mature fields, PER will be consistently high and vary little by ethanol yield (figure 1, click to enlarge).

Ethanol Yield and Net Energy Yield
The annual biomass yields of established fields averaged 5.2-11.1 Mg/ha with a resulting average estimated net energy yield (NEY) of 60 GJ/ha/year (figure 2, click to enlarge). Switchgrass monocultures managed for high yield produced 93% more biomass yield and an equivalent estimated NEY than previous estimates from human-made prairies that received low agricultural inputs.

One of the prime reasons for the improved yield was the actual lower energy inputs for biomass reported in comparison to the estimates previously reported. This highlights, the team notes in its paper, the discrepancies that can occur when analyses are based on small-scale research plots and misassumptions:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

GHG emissions
Life-cycle analysis models have quantified the amount of either GHG emitted from ethanol or GHG displaced by shifting to an ethanol energy source from a petroleum energy source. For switchgrass, studies have estimated the amount of GHG displaced by the amount of harvested material that is converted to ethanol. Others have determined the amount of GHG displaced by the amount of harvested material and by the amount of carbon dioxide sequestered into the soil profile.

The amount of soil carbon sequestration by reintroduction of perennial grasses to a field depends on existing soil C concentration, soil type, climate, precipitation, management, and annual biomass production. Soil carbon levels on low-input switchgrass fields (29 soil types) have been shown to increase over time, across soil depths, and are higher than adjacent cropland fields in the Northern Plains.

Switchgrass managed for bioenergy on multiple soil types in the Northern Plains was carbon-negative, sequestering 4.42 Mg C ha/year into the soil profile. In the new analysis, the amount of GHG emissions displaced using ethanol from switchgrass over conventional gasoline was estimated based on biomass yields by both fossil fuel displacement and the estimated carbon dioxide sequestered as soil C for 100 yr by switchgrass on converted cropland.

Life-cycle analysis estimated that ethanol from switchgrass averaged 94% lower GHG emissions than from gasoline (figure 3, click to enlarge). Switchgrass fields were GHG-positive, -neutral, or -negative, depending on agriculture input amounts (mainly N fertilization) and subsequent biomass yields. Three of the 5 harvest yr showed farms averaging near-GHG neutral levels. GHG emissions of ethanol from switchgrass, using only the displacement method, showed 88% less GHG emissions than conventional gasoline.

Based on the results, the scientists write that switchgrass based cellulosic ethanol appears to be a highly efficient and green energy source. For an alternative transportation fuel to be a substitute for conventional gasoline, the alternative fuel should (i) have superior environmental benefits, (ii) be economically competitive, (iii) have meaningful supplies to meet energy demands, and (iv) have a positive NEV:
The results of this study demonstrate that switchgrass grown and managed as a biomass energy crop produces more than 500% more renewable energy than energy consumed in its production and has significant environmental benefits, as estimated by net GHG emissions as well as soil conservation benefits.
It is expected that biomass conversion rates will be improved in the future because of both genetic modifications of biomass feedstocks and improvements in conversion technology, which should result in improvement in net energy for switchgrass.

Only a fraction of the research effort that has produced significant improvements in corn genetics and management has been available for switchgrass and other potential perennial herbaceous biomass species. The new baseline study represents the technology available for switchgrass in 2000 and 2001, when the fields were planted.

The researchers expect that further improvements in both genetics (hybrid cultivars, molecular markers) and agronomics (production system management practices and inputs) will be achieved for dedicated energy crops such as switchgrass, which will further improve biomass yields, conversion efficiency, and NEV. As an indicator of the improvement potential, switchgrass biomass yields in recent yield trials in Nebraska, South Dakota, and North Dakota (36–38) were 50% greater than achieved in this study.

The scientists conclude by saying that:
The Green Revolution greatly enhanced the capacity of agriculture to increase food supplies throughout the world by the use of improved genetics and management inputs. Green energy goals of nations likewise can be met in part through improved genetics and agronomics. The environmental and ecological effects of the conversion of cropland to CRP were largely positive. It is expected that results will be similar for conversion of land to perennial grasses such as switchgrass for bioenergy. However, environmental and ecological assessments should continue to be made at both the micro and macro scales.

Figure 1. Energy estimates for 10 switchgrass fields managed for bioenergy for the establishment year (filled circle) and second (open circle), third (yellow square), fourth (open square), and fifth years (red triangle), using input and biomass production data from 10 farms in the EBAMM model. (a) Comparison of net energy values (Mj/liter) from the fields based on known agricultural inputs with estimates from two simulated switchgrass studies. NEV are not shown for one study, because they were negative for switchgrass at all ethanol yields due to the misassumption that non-renewable energy will be used for all biorefinery energy needs. (b) PER, which is the biofuel output (MJ) divided by the petroleum (MJ) requirements for the agricultural, biorefinery, and distribution phases, for the 10 fields compared with three simulated studies (blue line, green line, and red line representing the often criticized study of Pimental and Patzek).

Figure 2: Comparison of estimated ethanol yield and NEY from switchgrass fields managed as a bioenergy crop; low-input, high-diversity, human-made prairies (LIHD) on small plots (19); low-input switchgrass (LI-SW) small plots (19); and corn grain yields (ref. 20; 2000–2005) from Nebraska and South and North Dakota). (a) Mean ethanol yield (liter/ha) was greater for the three farms with low mean ethanol yields, mean ethanol yields of all farms, and three farms with high mean ethanol yields (>2 year after seeding) or established switchgrass plots (>9yr after seeding) grown in a higher precipitation zone and was comparable to corn grain ethanol yields for the three states. Conversion of corn grain and cellulosic biomass to ethanol was estimated at 0.4 liter/kg, and 0.38 liter/kg respectively. (b) NEY from established switchgrass fields for all farms was consistently higher than human-made prairies or low-input switchgrass (19) grown in a higher precipitation zone.

Figure 3: Estimated displacement (%) of GHG emissions by replacing conventional gasoline (baseline) with cellulosic ethanol derived from switchgrass. Minimum (grey), mean (blue), and maximum (green) percent GHG displacement for each switchgrass harvest year is based on actual production data from 10 switchgrass fields. Estimated GHG values include the amount of CO2 sequestered in the soil (100 yr) by switchgrass, which was estimated to be 138.1 kg of CO2 Mg aboveground biomass per year.

Schmer, M. R., Vogel, K. P., Mitchell, R. B. & Perrin, R. K. "Net energy of cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass" [*.pdf, open access], PNAS USA 105, 464-469 (2008).

Biopact: Study of energy crops shows miscanthus twice as productive as switchgrass - July 10, 2007


Blogger rufus said...

Patzek and Pimental were Wrong?

Get Out!

6:54 PM  
Anonymous Jonas said...

P&P have done the biofuels people a great favor: we now know that simulations must be met with extreme care, and that nothing can replace real field trials.

The difference between the two results is pretty extreme. Makes one wonder why P&P published their estimations in the first place...


2:13 AM  
Blogger rufus said...

Patzek is founder, and current director of University of California OIL CONSORTIUM. The oil companies pay his organization millions.

No wonder, here.

Pimental, I'm also a little suspicious of.

5:36 PM  

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