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    Austrian bioenergy group Cycleenergy acquired controlling interest in Greenpower Projektentwicklungs GmbH, expanding its biomass operational portfolio by 16 MW to a total of 22 MW. In the transaction Cycleenergy took over 51% of the company and thereby formed a joint venture with Porr Infrastruktur GmbH, a subsidiary of Austrian construction company Porr AG. Greenpower operates two wood chip CHP facilities in Upper and Lower Austria, each with an electric capacity of 2 MW. The plants have been in operation since the middle of last year and consume more than 30,000 tonnes of wood chips and are expected to generate over €5 million in additional revenue. Cycleenergy - February 6, 2007.

    The 2008 edition of Bioenergy World Europe will take place in Verona, Italy, from 7 to 10 February. Gathering a broad range of international exhibitors covering gaseous, liquid and solid bioenergy, the event aims to offer participants the possibility of developing their business through meetings with professionals, thematic study tours and an international forum focusing on market and regulatory issues, as well as industry expertise. Bioenergy World Europe - February 5, 2007.

    The World GTL Summit will take place between 12 – 14th May 2008 in London. Key topics to be discussed include: the true value of Gas-to-Liquids (GTL) projects, well-to-wheels analyses of the GTL value chain; construction, logistics and procurement challenges; the future for small-scale Fischer-Tropsch (FT) projects; Technology, economics, politics and logistics of Coal-to-Liquids (CTL); latest Biomass-to-Liquids (BTL) commercialisation initiatives. CWC Exhibitions - February 4, 2007.

    The 4th Annual Brussels Climate Change Conference is announced for 26 - 27 February 2008. This joint CEPS/Epsilon conference will explore the key issues for a post-Kyoto agreement on climate change. The conference focuses on EU and global issues relating to global warming, and in particular looks at the following issues: - Post-2012 after Bali and before the Hokkaido G8 summit; Progress of EU integrated energy and climate package, burden-sharing renewables and technology; EU Emissions Trading Review with a focus on investment; Transport Climatepolicy.eu - January 28, 2007.

    Japan's Marubeni Corp. plans to begin importing a bioethanol compound from Brazil for use in biogasoline sold by petroleum wholesalers in Japan. The trading firm will import ETBE, which is synthesized from petroleum products and ethanol derived from sugar cane. The compound will be purchased from Brazilian petrochemical company Companhia Petroquimica do Sul and in February, Marubeni will supply 6,500 kilolitres of the ETBE, worth around US$7 million, to a biogasoline group made up of petroleum wholesalers. Wholesalers have been introducing biofuels since last April by mixing 7 per cent ETBE into gasoline. Plans call for 840 million liters of ETBE to be procured annually from domestic and foreign suppliers by 2010. Trading Markets - January 24, 2007.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    PetroChina Co Ltd, the country's largest oil and gas producer, plans to invest 800 million yuan to build an ethanol plant in Nanchong, in the southwestern province of Sichuan, its parent China National Petroleum Corp said. The ethanol plant has a designed annual capacity of 100,000 tons. ABCMoneyNews - December 21, 2007.

    Mexico passed legislation to promote biofuels last week, offering unspecified support to farmers that grow crops for the production of any renewable fuel. Agriculture Minister Alberto Cardenas said Mexico could expand biodiesel faster than ethanol. More soon. Reuters - December 20, 2007.

    Oxford Catalysts has placed an order worth approximately €700,000 (US$1 million) with the German company Amtec for the purchase of two Spider16 high throughput screening reactors. The first will be used to speed up the development of catalysts for hydrodesulphurisation (HDS). The second will be used to further the development of catalysts for use in gas to liquid (GTL) and Fischer-Tropsch processes which can be applied to next generation biofuels. AlphaGalileo - December 18, 2007.

    According to the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE), Brazil's production of sugarcane will increase from 514,1 million tonnes this season, to a record 561,8 million tonnes in the 2008/09 cyclus - an increase of 9.3%. New numbers are also out for the 2007 harvest in Brazil's main sugarcane growing region, the Central-South: a record 425 million tonnes compared to 372,7 million tonnes in 2006, or a 14% increase. The estimate was provided by Unica – the União da Indústria de Cana-de-Açúcar. Jornal Cana - December 16, 2007.

    The University of East Anglia and the UK Met Office's Hadley Centre have today released preliminary global temperature figures for 2007, which show the top 11 warmest years all occurring in the last 13 years. The provisional global figure for 2007 using data from January to November, currently places the year as the seventh warmest on records dating back to 1850. The announcement comes as the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Michel Jarraud, speaks at the Conference of the Parties (COP) in Bali. Eurekalert - December 13, 2007.

    The Royal Society of Chemistry has announced it will launch a new journal in summer 2008, Energy & Environmental Science, which will distinctly address both energy and environmental issues. In recognition of the importance of research in this subject, and the need for knowledge transfer between scientists throughout the world, from launch the RSC will make issues of Energy & Environmental Science available free of charge to readers via its website, for the first 18 months of publication. This journal will highlight the important role that the chemical sciences have in solving the energy problems we are facing today. It will link all aspects of energy and the environment by publishing research relating to energy conversion and storage, alternative fuel technologies, and environmental science. AlphaGalileo - December 10, 2007.

    Dutch researcher Bas Bougie has developed a laser system to investigate soot development in diesel engines. Small soot particles are not retained by a soot filter but are, however, more harmful than larger soot particles. Therefore, soot development needs to be tackled at the source. Laser Induced Incandescence is a technique that reveals exactly where soot is generated and can be used by project partners to develop cleaner diesel engines. Terry Meyer, an Iowa State University assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is using similar laser technology to develop advanced sensors capable of screening the combustion behavior and soot characteristics specifically of biofuels. Eurekalert - December 7, 2007.

    Lithuania's first dedicated biofuel terminal has started operating in Klaipeda port. At the end of November 2007, the stevedoring company Vakaru krova (VK) started activities to manage transshipments. The infrastructure of the biodiesel complex allows for storage of up to 4000 cubic meters of products. During the first year, the terminal plans to transship about 70.000 tonnes of methyl ether, after that the capacities of the terminal would be increased. Investments to the project totaled €2.3 million. Agrimarket - December 5, 2007.

    New Holland supports the use of B100 biodiesel in all equipment with New Holland-manufactured diesel engines, including electronic injection engines with common rail technology. Overall, nearly 80 percent of the tractor and equipment manufacturer's New Holland-branded products with diesel engines are now available to operate on B100 biodiesel. Tractor and equipment maker John Deere meanwhile clarified its position for customers that want to use biodiesel blends up to B20. Grainnet - December 5, 2007.

    According to Wetlands International, an NGO, the Kyoto Protocol as it currently stands does not take into account possible emissions from palm oil grown on a particular type of land found in Indonesia and Malaysia, namely peatlands. Mongabay - December 5, 2007.

    Malaysia's oil & gas giant Petronas considers entering the biofuels sector. Zamri Jusoh, senior manager of Petronas' petroleum development management unit told reporters "of course our focus is on oil and gas, but I think as we move into the future we cannot ignore the importance of biofuels." AFP - December 5, 2007.

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Friday, February 08, 2008

New land use techniques boost benefits of biofuels

Several recent studies about the carbon balance of first-generation biofuels, including two analyses published in Science, are based on assessments of current land use practises. These studies are important, but the conclusions drawn from them are often seriously flawed. Moreover, if these conclusions are placed in a neo-malthusian perspective on population and natural resources, they cannot be taken seriously at all because there is no credible basis for neo-malthusianism in the first place.

Let us first note that only a fraction of the current biofuels are produced from crops grown on cleared high carbon land like forests. The vast majority is based on low carbon land, so we are only looking at exceptions here. Scientists analysing the long term potential of explicitly sustainable biofuels have clearly outlined how much low carbon land is available on a global scale, and it is estimated to be more than 1 billion hectares - that is: non-forest land available after all food, fiber and feed needs for growing populations have been met (more here). In short, technically speaking, the planet can relatively easily sustain the production of both food and fuels for a growing population, sustainably.

That said, let's look at the current land use practises analysed in the studies. These practises involve the conversion of 'pristine' systems like forests, woodlands or grasslands, to make way for monocultures of energy crops . Under these practises, the biomass that is cleared is often burned, resulting in large carbon emissions. Biofuels made from low yielding crops grown on this land thus have a large 'carbon debt'. It can take years or decades before biofuels have repaid their debt and begin to reduce emissions (by replacing fossil fuels).

But all these analyses are based on existing, primitive land use practises and on first-generation, inefficient biofuels made from crops like corn or soybeans. They do not take into account new energy crops (e.g. crops that yield far more biomass and are engineered to store far more CO2 than ordinary crops), the use of plantation residues, new bioconversion technologies, and the radical option of capturing and storing carbon from bioenergy production.

Those who use current studies about the carbon balance of today's incredibly inefficient biofuels to conclude that all biofuels are incapable of reducing emissions are making a grave mistake. In fact, new and future land use practises by themselves change the picture entirely, and make biofuels and bioenergy the most radical tool in the fight against climate change. Add new crops and new conversion techniques, and it will be clear that biofuels present major benefits.

New land use practises
Let's explore these new concepts - they are based on developments that are already taking place. The schematic above outlines them in brief.

First of all, a major leap forward towards making biofuels carbon neutral from the very start - cancelling the carbon debt at once - is very simple. It consists of using the original biomass (e.g. woodland or forest) as a bioenergy feedstock. When clearing a forest, it is foolish to burn the wood which is the current practise, because this biomass is itself a highly valuable energy source. Instead of wasting the energy by burning the wood, it will be used as a biofuel feedstock.

Decentralised biofuel production plants that can be located close to the land to be cleared are already here. These plants draw on a process called fast-pyrolysis. It transforms any type of biomass into bio-oil, which can be further upgraded into transport fuels or used in power plants.

Using the biomass of the land clearance as a biofuel feedstock immediately pays back the bulk of the carbon debt that would have resulted from burning this biomass without using the energy contained in it. The only carbon debt left is that resulting from changes in the below-ground biomass, but in most cases this can be offset quite quickly (e.g. when a perennial grassland is replaced by polycultures of perennial energy grasses). Of course, this new land use technique requires the creation of infrastructures (such as roads), but these are likely to benefit local communities greatly.

Virtually no study looks at this simple step. It is however already being implemented. An example comes from old palm oil plantations that are being replaced by new ones. The old biomass stock - entire trees - is being converted into biofuels that replace fossil fuels. A Canadian bioenergy company (Buchanan Renewable Energies) is doing this in Liberia, where it is paying to use old palm forests' biomass as a feedstock for the production of pyrolysis oil. After this first transformation, the cleared land will be used for a new plantation. Fuels from this new plantation have no 'carbon debt'. This concept can (and should) be applied to all new biofuel ventures that convert undisturbed grasslands, wood lands or forests into energy crop plantations.

Carbon negative

This new land use practise is however only a first step towards far more interesting bioenergy concepts. In the future, original biomass will not only be converted into bioenergy or biofuels, but the fuel production process itself will be coupled to carbon sequestration techniques. These come in two forms: either geosequestration (storing CO2 in geological formations) or biochar systems (storing carbon in soils via charcoal or pyrolysis char).

The process works as follows: original biomass (e.g. a woodland) is used for the production of a biofuel such as pyrolysis oil. The local plant may itself already capture and store its own CO2 emissions (a first example of CCS coupled to biofuel production comes from the U.S. where the Midwest Geological Sequestration Consortium recently received $66 million to sequester CO2 from a biofuel plant - more here). The fuel is then sent to a facility where it is used for the production of either electricity and heat, a fully decarbonized biofuel (such as biohydrogen) or a low-carbon biofuel. At this facility, the CO2 is again captured and stored, before the decarbonized form of energy is used by the consumer. The end result is carbon-negative energy that yields negative emissions:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Such carbon-negative fuels and energy is a radical tool in the climate fight. Unlike any other type of renewable energy, it actually removes CO2 from the past from the atmosphere.

Scientists working for the Abrupt Climate Change Strategy group, a think tank with a mandate from the G8 to study options for us to survive abrupt climatic change, calculated that if such systems were implemented on a global scale, we can bring atmospheric CO2 levels back to pre-industrial levels by mid-century (more here).

Besides the option of capturing and storing CO2 from bioenergy and biofuels, a whole series of new developments in all biofuel production steps have to be taken into account.

New crops, new bioconversion techniques

New land use practises were already discussed. Now let's look at developments in the field of energy crops, bioconversion, agronomy and the use of residues. Current biofuel crops like corn or soybeans are truly inefficient because biofuels made from them only utilize a fraction of the biomass grown, that is, easily extractible starch or oil. These first-generation biofuels have no future and are no longer of interest to the bioenergy community.

A large number of plant biologists and bio-engineers has already developed new crops that either yield far more biomass (which immediately clears much of the carbon debt), or that store far more CO2 than ordinary crops, or that contain in them codes for easy bioconversion. We will limit the discussion to a few examples of such crops: high-biomass sorghum (more here), eucalyptus trees with higher carbon storage capacity (here, and another similar crop - a hybrid larch with enhanced CO2 sequestering capacity, here), maize that contains its own bioconversion enzymes (previous post) and low lignin sorghums that can be turned much easier into fuels (here).

Secondly, an enormous number of efficiency leaps in biofuel production processes has emerged over the past years. This process is ongoing. Almost every day Biopact reports about them. Yesterday, scientists reported they have developed a new nano-engineered molecular sieve that dehydrates biofuels much more efficiently - which means less energy is needed, thus lowering the emissions from the production process (more here). Also yesterday, ZeaChem announced it succeeded in improving ethanol yields from wood via a hybrid conversion process based on thermochemical and biochemical transformation into hydrogen (used to power the process) and acetic acid, which is consequently turned into liquid fuel in a highly efficient manner. The yield increase: 50% (earlier post).

This type of evolutions occurs virtually every day and is tilting biofuel production to ever higher efficiency and lower emissions. Sadly, it takes a while before environmentalists, conservationists or researchers become aware of them and take them up in their analyses.

Third, mere agronomic interventions succeed in improving the carbon and energy balance of biofuels. One of the studies recently published in Science gives the example of growing polycultures of native prairie grasses - these polycultures actually store large amounts of carbon in soils, and by themselves become a strong carbon sink. Using the grasses as a bioenergy feedstock results in carbon negative fuels, merely as a result of good agronomic practises and because of the nature of these grasses (previous post). The original researcher who conducted this line of studies, David Tilman, was a co-author of one of the Science papers published today.

Finally, an area in which huge potential can be found is in the utilization of plantation and processing residues from existing agricultural operations and biofuel operations. Recently, we referred to the potential for the production of biohydrogen from palm oil residues. A palm plantation yields farm more biomass than is currently used in the form of oil. If these vast amounts of residues are used productively instead of burned or dumped as waste, the carbon balance of biofuels from the oil is seriously improved (previous post). There is similar potential is virtually all agricultural operations today. The same process can be applied in biofuel operations, where residues and byproducts (such as glycerine in biodiesel) is used as a feedstock for a myriad of green products that replace oil, coal and gas.

In short, we agree with the growing body of researchers who point to the many potential drawbacks of primitive, first-generation biofuels. Biopact has long ago distanced itself from these fuels (an exeption would be fuels like current sugarcane based ethanol in Brazil). We think much more care must be taken to assess the full lifecycle carbon emissions from biofuels, as well as indirect emissions that occur elsewhere on the planet because of the massive use of particular crops in one place (e.g. corn in the U.S. driving the expansion of soy in the Amazon).

But all this should not negate the fact that there is a range of bioenergy and biofuel production concepts that offers major benefits. Neither should the studies based on current inefficient biofuels halt the exploration and development of new crops and bioconversion technologies. The challenges presented by climate change and growing energy insecurity are too important and require continued investments in new technologies.


Scientific literature on negative emissions from biomass:
H. Audus and P. Freund, "Climate Change Mitigation by Biomass Gasificiation Combined with CO2 Capture and Storage", IEA Greenhouse Gas R&D Programme.

James S. Rhodesa and David W. Keithb, "Engineering economic analysis of biomass IGCC with carbon capture and storage", Biomass and Bioenergy, Volume 29, Issue 6, December 2005, Pages 440-450.

Noim Uddin and Leonardo Barreto, "Biomass-fired cogeneration systems with CO2 capture and storage", Renewable Energy, Volume 32, Issue 6, May 2007, Pages 1006-1019, doi:10.1016/j.renene.2006.04.009

Christian Azar, Kristian Lindgren, Eric Larson and Kenneth Möllersten, "Carbon Capture and Storage From Fossil Fuels and Biomass – Costs and Potential Role in Stabilizing the Atmosphere", Climatic Change, Volume 74, Numbers 1-3 / January, 2006, DOI 10.1007/s10584-005-3484-7

Further reading on negative emissions bioenergy and biofuels:
Peter Read and Jonathan Lermit, "Bio-Energy with Carbon Storage (BECS): a Sequential Decision Approach to the threat of Abrupt Climate Change", Energy, Volume 30, Issue 14, November 2005, Pages 2654-2671.

Stefan Grönkvist, Kenneth Möllersten, Kim Pingoud, "Equal Opportunity for Biomass in Greenhouse Gas Accounting of CO2 Capture and Storage: A Step Towards More Cost-Effective Climate Change Mitigation Regimes", Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, Volume 11, Numbers 5-6 / September, 2006, DOI 10.1007/s11027-006-9034-9

Biopact: Commission supports carbon capture & storage - negative emissions from bioenergy on the horizon - January 23, 2008

Biopact: The strange world of carbon-negative bioenergy: the more you drive your car, the more you tackle climate change - October 29, 2007

Biopact: "A closer look at the revolutionary coal+biomass-to-liquids with carbon storage project" - September 13, 2007

Biopact: New plastic-based, nano-engineered CO2 capturing membrane developed - September 19, 2007

Biopact: Plastic membrane to bring down cost of carbon capture - August 15, 2007

Biopact: Pre-combustion CO2 capture from biogas - the way forward? - March 31, 2007

Biopact: Towards carbon-negative biofuels: US DOE awards $66.7 million for large-scale CO2 capture and storage from ethanol plant - December 19, 2007

Biopact: Biochar and carbon-negative bioenergy: boosts crop yields, fights climate change and reduces deforestation - January 28, 2008

References to new crops, bioconversion methods and agronomic advancements can be found throughout Biopact's archive. References mentioned in this article are:

Biopact: Scientists develop low-lignin eucalyptus trees that store more CO2, provide more cellulose for biofuels - September 17, 2007

Biopact: Japanese scientists develop hybrid larch trees with 30% greater carbon sink capacity - October 03, 2007

Biopact: Third generation biofuels: scientists patent corn variety with embedded cellulase enzymes - May 05, 2007

Biopact: Carbon negative biofuels: from monocultures to polycultures - December 08, 2006

Biopact: Tallgrass Prairie Center to implement Tilman's mixed grass findings - September 02, 2007

Biopact: Sun Grant Initiative funds 17 bioenergy research projects - [on high-biomass sorghum] August 20, 2007

Biopact: Ceres and TAES team up to develop high-biomass sorghum for next-generation biofuels - October 01, 2007

Biopact: Scientists release new low-lignin sorghums: ideal for biofuel and feed - September 10, 2007

Biopact: Major breakthrough: researchers engineer sorghum that beats aluminum toxicity - August 27, 2007

Biopact: U.S. scientists develop drought tolerant sorghum for biofuels - May 21, 2007

Biopact: Sweet super sorghum - yield data for the ICRISAT hybrid - February 21, 2007

Biopact: Mapping sorghum's genome to create robust biomass crops - June 24, 2007


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