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    At the 148th Meeting of the OPEC Conference, the oil exporting cartel decided to leave its production level unchanged, sending crude prices spiralling to new records (above $104). OPEC "observed that the market is well-supplied, with current commercial oil stocks standing above their five-year average. The Conference further noted, with concern, that the current price environment does not reflect market fundamentals, as crude oil prices are being strongly influenced by the weakness in the US dollar, rising inflation and significant flow of funds into the commodities market." OPEC - March 5, 2008.

    Kyushu University (Japan) is establishing what it says will be the world’s first graduate program in hydrogen energy technologies. The new master’s program for hydrogen engineering is to be offered at the university’s new Ito campus in Fukuoka Prefecture. Lectures will cover such topics as hydrogen energy and developing the fuel cells needed to convert hydrogen into heat or electricity. Of all the renewable pathways to produce hydrogen, bio-hydrogen based on the gasification of biomass is by far both the most efficient, cost-effective and cleanest. Fuel Cell Works - March 3, 2008.

    An entrepreneur in Ivory Coast has developed a project to establish a network of Miscanthus giganteus farms aimed at producing biomass for use in power generation. In a first phase, the goal is to grow the crop on 200 hectares, after which expansion will start. The project is in an advanced stage, but the entrepreneur still seeks partners and investors. The plantation is to be located in an agro-ecological zone qualified as highly suitable for the grass species. Contact us - March 3, 2008.

    A 7.1MW biomass power plant to be built on the Haiwaiian island of Kaua‘i has received approval from the local Planning Commission. The plant, owned and operated by Green Energy Hawaii, will use albizia trees, a hardy species that grows in poor soil on rainfall alone. The renewable power plant will meet 10 percent of the island's energy needs. Kauai World - February 27, 2008.

    Tasmania's first specialty biodiesel plant has been approved, to start operating as early as July. The Macquarie Oil Company will spend half a million dollars on a specially designed facility in Cressy, in Tasmania's Northern Midlands. The plant will produce more than five million litres of fuel each year for the transport and marine industries. A unique blend of feed stock, including poppy seed, is expected to make it more viable than most operations. ABC Rural - February 25, 2008.

    The 16th European Biomass Conference & Exhibition - From Research to Industry and Markets - will be held from 2nd to 6th June 2008, at the Convention and Exhibition Centre of FeriaValencia, Spain. Early bird fee registration ends 18th April 2008. European Biomass Conference & Exhibition - February 22, 2008.

    'Obesity Facts' – a new multidisciplinary journal for research and therapy published by Karger – was launched today as the official journal of the European Association for the Study of Obesity. The journal publishes articles covering all aspects of obesity, in particular epidemiology, etiology and pathogenesis, treatment, and the prevention of adiposity. As obesity is related to many disease processes, the journal is also dedicated to all topics pertaining to comorbidity and covers psychological and sociocultural aspects as well as influences of nutrition and exercise on body weight. Obesity is one of the world's most pressing health issues, expected to affect 700 million people by 2015. AlphaGalileo - February 21, 2008.

    A bioethanol plant with a capacity of 150 thousand tons per annum is to be constructed in Kuybishev, in the Novosibirsk region. Construction is to begin in 2009 with investments into the project estimated at €200 million. A 'wet' method of production will be used to make, in addition to bioethanol, gluten, fodder yeast and carbon dioxide for industrial use. The complex was developed by the Solev consulting company. FIS: Siberia - February 19, 2008.

    Sarnia-Lambton lands a $15million federal grant for biofuel innovation at the Western Ontario Research and Development Park. The funds come on top of a $10 million provincial grant. The "Bioindustrial Innovation Centre" project competed successfully against 110 other proposals for new research money. London Free Press - February 18, 2008.

    An organisation that has established a large Pongamia pinnata plantation on barren land owned by small & marginal farmers in Andhra Pradesh, India is looking for a biogas and CHP consultant to help research the use of de-oiled cake for the production of biogas. The organisation plans to set up a biogas plant of 20,000 cubic meter capacity and wants to use it for power generation. Contact us - February 15, 2008.

    The Andersons, Inc. and Marathon Oil Corporation today jointly announced ethanol production has begun at their 110-million gallon ethanol plant located in Greenville, Ohio. Along with the 110 million gallons of ethanol, the plant annually will produce 350,000 tons of distillers dried grains, an animal feed ingredient. Marathon Oil - February 14, 2008.

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Friday, March 07, 2008

CU-Boulder awarded project: solar chemical processing of biomass into biohydrogen

Earlier this week, the US Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture announced an investment into 21 bioenergy research projects (previous post). US$ 1 million went to an interesting project that aims to convert biomass and biogas into a decarbonised biofuel - namely biohydrogen - via solar-thermal gasification. Two types of renewable energy are thus coupled to each other and generate a potentially powerful synergy. If successful, the solar chemical processing technology means hydrogen production from biomass further improves its greenhouse gas balance, because it would entirely exclude fossil fuels as a primary energy source for the gasification process.

There are two main pathways to make hydrogen: (1) gasifying carbonaceous fuels, including biomass, into a syngas that can be further reformed into hydrogen; (2) the electrolysis of water using electricity from any primary energy source, including renewables. According to a very recent study outlining the EU's hydrogen future, of all the possible pathways, biohydrogen based on the gasification of biomass is both the least carbon-intensive, the most economic of the renewable pathways, as well as holding the largest potential in the EU (previous post). Likewise, for use in cars, biohydrogen is the cleanest and most efficient pathway on a well-to-wheel basis (previous post; graph, click to enlarge).

The recently awarded project at the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU-Boulder), which partners with a consortium of other renewable technology researchers (from Europe) now goes a step further and hints at an even cleaner pathway. The goal is to develop rapid solar-thermal chemical reactor systems for the conversion of biomass material like grass, sorghum, corn stalks and leaves, wood waste and algae. The feedstock is heated to more than 2,000 degrees F for just fractions of a second. This will produce an intermediate syngas - a mixture of carbon oxides and hydrogen - that can be easily converted into biohydrogen or liquid fuels.

The three-year award was made to a team led by Professor Alan Weimer of CU-Boulder's chemical and biological engineering department. The team has been studying the use of concentrated sunlight for several other conversion processes, amongst them the decarbonisation of (bio)methane.
Since the process is driven by sunlight and converts biomass to fuels, the end result is a process that is 'carbon negative'. This provides an opportunity to substantially reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere without impacting the food supply. - Professor Weimer
Professor Weimer is executive director of the Colorado Center for Biorefining and Biofuels, or C2B2, a joint center of CU-Boulder, Colorado State University, the Colorado School of Mines, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and industry. Headquartered at CU-Boulder, C2B2 - which has a goal to increase the production and use of energy from renewable resources - was founded in March 2007 by the Colorado Renewable Energy Collaboratory, a consortium involving all four institutions (previous post).

CU-Boulder will subcontract out to NREL in Golden to provide a high-flux solar furnace (pictured) for the research and to CSU to study switchgrass growth and supply quantities of the tall prairie grass to CU-Boulder for conversion. The CSU collaboration will be led by CSU horticulture Professor Yaling Qian, while the NREL collaboration will be led by Carl Bingham at NREL's High Flux Solar Furnace.

Weimer said he envisions a totally renewable technology, in which a significant fraction of the nation's fuel supply is provided using solar-thermal processing in marginal lands where the farming of crops can provide the needed biomass:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The CU-Boulder grant was part of the USDA/DOE award package to spend up to $18.4 million to fund 21 biomass research and development demonstration projects over three years for a total of $18.4 million. The projects are aimed at addressing barriers to making the production of biomass more efficient and cost-effective, according to the USDA and DOE.
The University of Colorado at Boulder has been working in the area of solar-thermal chemical processing for more than 10 years and is the largest academic research team in this area in the world. This award recognizes the university's expertise in the field and provides Professor Weimer and his team with an opportunity to move this process closer to commercial reality. - G.P. Bud Peterson, CU-Boulder Chancellor
David Hiller, executive director of the Colorado Renewable Energy Collaboratory, said Weimer's research on the solar conversion of biomass, the multi-institutional involvement on the project team and the public and private support for the effort are a "perfect reflection of the Collaboratory model."
The Collaboratory brings together some of the world's best researchers to work on promising renewable energy technologies, with guidance and financial support from private industry and public agencies. Professor Weimer, C2B2 and this new project demonstrate the Collaboratory's incredible research power and growing reputation. - David Hiller
Other team members on the winning CU-Boulder proposal include Xcel Energy, Abengoa Solar and Abengoa BioEnergy, which have facilities in the United States and Europe, Arizona Public Service Co., Copernican Energy of Boulder and the Swiss Federal Research Institute.

Copernican Energy is a technology leader in solar-thermal chemical reactor engineering, Xcel Energy will supply utility engineering support for the solar-thermal process technology and Arizona Public Service will supply algae to CU-Boulder for conversion, Weimer said.

Abengoa is the largest green energy company in the world and built the world's first commercial "central receiver" solar-thermal facility that produces electricity for Seville, Spain. The Spain facility is equipped with mirrors on the ground that reflect sunlight to a receiver on an adjacent tower, allowing the achievement of higher temperatures.

The Swiss Federal Research Institute has been partnering with CU in the solar-thermal research area for almost 10 years and provides solar research facilities and expertise in the area of solar radiation modeling and heat transfer.

University of Colorado at Boulder: CU-Boulder Awarded $1 Million From USDA, DOE For Solar-Thermal Biomass-To-Gas Conversion Project - March 5, 2008.

Research page of Professor Alan W. Weimer, C2B2 Executive Director.

NREL: High-Flux Solar Furnace.

Biopact: USDA and DOE to invest up to $18.4 million for 21 biomass RD&D projects: heat, power, biofuels and bioproducts - March 04, 2008

Biopact: EU HyWays report concludes biomass least costly and preferred renewable for hydrogen production; hydrogen can replace 40% oil by 2050 - February 26, 2008

Biopact: Hydrogen out, compressed biogas in - October 01, 2006

Biopact: Colorado Center for Biorefining and Biofuels announces $500,000 in seed grants for research - October 30, 2007


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