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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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Monday, January 14, 2008

Tata's Nano could trigger an unstoppable biofuels revolution in the Global South

Will Tata's "people's car" and other ultra-affordable vehicles trigger a biofuels revolution in developing countries?
At Biopact, we're strongly in favor of a transition to electric transport because it would be more efficient and versatile than the 20th century era of the internal combustion engine. In an electric-powered future, the energy carrier would be supplied from a diverse range of renewables, possibly backed up by nuclear, and of course, by the most radical kind of climate fighting energy: bio-electricity yielding negative emissions. That is, electricity generated from biomass cogeneration plants coupled to carbon capture and storage (CCS). Of all energy systems, only this one succeeds in generating electricity while at the same time actively removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

But let's be realistic: such a bright green future is decades away. Professor Jesse Ausubel from Rockefeller University’s Program for the Human Environment recently explored the temporal dimensions of such society-altering energy and transport transitions, in a highly interesting set of papers. He finds the timescales involved cover many decades and possibly even a century.

Still, it might be interesting to ask where this futuristic, all-electric mobility paradigm - possibly putting emphasis on mass transit systems - might emerge first. Somewhere in Silicon Valley, perhaps, or in resource-poor and heavily urbanised Japan. One thing is certain, though: it won't see the light in the developing world anywhere soon, no matter how appealing the concept of energy 'leapfrogging' might be on paper. The developing world will stick to the internal combustion engine for decades to come because it will remain by far the least expensive of all propulsion technologies.

Nano-revolution, biofuels revolution?
People in poorer countries - the "bottom of the pyramid" - aspire to enjoy a form of personal mobility, that is, to own and drive a normal family car. It remains the ultimate symbol of modernity and of membership of a kind of universal middle class. This explains the ever expanding trade of used cars that are shipped from Europe to Africa. This potentially huge market obviously also drives Tata's investment in the ultra-cheap Nano - the "people's car" some hail as a giant leap towards the democratisation of mobility, whereas others call it a potential (climate) disaster for the planet.

The Nano and similar hyper-affordable models currently under development by other manufacturers could expand oil demand much faster than expected. Peak Oil might arrive sooner because of this small car revolution. The numbers are quite staggering: according to rating agency CRISIL, Tata Nano’s launch and the price point it sets could by itself expand the Indian car market by a whopping 65%. At the significantly redefined threshold for car ownership in India, annual car sales have the potential to increase by 20% over the sales expected in 2007-08, it says. Another study by German research firm CSM World Wide shows the small car alone will propel the Tata to become the India's biggest light vehicle manufacturer by 2013. And then there are the large African, South East Asian and Latin American markets, all waiting for a seat aboard the Nano.

A scenario based on a very rapid expansion of the global car fleet and its effects on oil prices could have one immediate result: a massive and unstoppable rush into biofuels. Because the poor not only want to own their Nano, they want to drive it. Ultra-expensive gasoline simply won't be an option. However, the irony is that many of the Nano's target countries happen to have a very large biofuels potential. A considerable number of these nations can replace all petroleum imports by biofuels relatively easily (take Mozambique: it needs to devote less than 1% of its potential arable land to biofuels to meet all its current oil imports).

For the millions of new small car owners, biofuels - even with all their current drawbacks - would become the only acceptable alternative to unaffordable gasoline. The plant based fuels would be highly commercially attractive (they already are with oil near $100pb) and would be far cleaner than the only other fuel likely to be produced on a large scale, that is, coal-based liquid fuels. Coal-to-liquid fuels are known for their extremely high carbon emissions and comparatively high production costs:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

In short, the Nano-revolution could imply an equally large biofuels revolution in the Global South. The small vehicle might be far more efficient than any European, Japanese or American car - but it too happens to have an internal combustion engine. That is, it needs a liquid fuel (gaseous (bio)fuels would do too). In any case, an electric Nano that is equally affordable will not see the light for a long time.

Liquid fuels and energy services
This brings us to a topic that has caused some confusion amongst renewable energy advocates. Many apply criteria to measure the efficiency of biofuels against other renewables, without taking into account the actual services provided by a liquid fuel. Take Nobel laureate Dr Hartmut Michel, the 1998 Nobel Prize winner for chemistry, who was in Manila last week for a talk. He urged the Philippine government to invest in wind power as an alternative to biofuels because the photosynthetic efficiency of plants is quite low. But obviously, the Nobel knows that cars don't work on wind power; he also knows that wind has problems with its intermittency and requires reliable baseloads, currently provided by fossil fuels. Moreover, Dr Michel should have known that the Philippines is an infrastructure-poor country that won't see electric vehicles anywhere soon. Instead, modernity in the island nation comes in the form of the ICE and liquid fuels. Currently, wind power has absolutely nothing to do with sustainable transport.

Bioenergy experts and scientists more familiar with the future of mobility know that the concept of the "energy balance" and production efficiency of biofuels - to which Dr Michel refers - is in a sense useless, certainly when this metric is used to compare biofuels to other forms of renewable energy, like wind power. This is so because a liquid fuel has very specific properties that make it unique and uncomparable with electricity, which is merely an energy carrier.

Bioenergy expert Professor Bruce Dale from Michigan State University recently claimed that "Net energy analysis is simple and has great intuitive appeal, but it is also dead wrong and dangerously misleading – net energy must be eliminated from our discourse." Dale’s perspective was recently published in the first edition of Biofuels, Bioproducts and Biorefining, to make the debate on the nascent bioeconomy more scientific and rigorous.

The problem with net energy, says Dale, is that it makes an assumption that all sources of energy (oil, coal, gas, nuclear, wind, etc) have equal value. "This assumption is completely wrong – all energy sources are not equal – one unit of energy from petrol is much more useful than the same amount of energy in coal, and that makes petrol much more valuable," says Dale.

For evidence, he points to the markets, where a unit of energy from gas, petrol and electricity are worth 3.5, 5 and 12 times as much as a unit of energy from coal, respectively. The same logic holds true for liquid biofuels compared with electricity from wind.

"Clear thinking shows that we value the services that energy can perform, not the energy per se, so it would be better to compare fuels by the services that each provides... not on a straight energy basis, which is likely to be irrelevant and misleading," says Dale.

It is an important lesson for everyone interested in analysing the future of mobility, especially as it relates to the developing world, where people value actual energy services more than the mere theoretical efficiency of an energy source.

: Tata Nano unveiled at the New Delhi Auto Expo. Credit: AFP.

The Economic Times (India): Tata Nano may expand market by 65%: CRISIL - January 12, 2008.

The Economic Times (India): Tata Nano: Mass hysteria leaves vendors beaming - January 12, 2008.

New York Times: Moving Billions of People on a Still-Green Planet? - January 11, 2008.

Inquirer: Rethink biofuel, says Nobel laureate - January 14, 2008.


Blogger Jacob Scott Hundley Kauffman said...

Just to let you know I referenced one of your articles pertaining to biofuels at kauffmanreport.blogspot.com

7:38 PM  

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