<body> --------------
Contact Us       Consulting       Projects       Our Goals       About Us
home / Archive
Nature Blog Network

    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.

Creative Commons License

Friday, January 11, 2008

UPDATE: biogas could replace EU natural gas imports

We've received quite a few reactions to our translation of a reportage on a study which shows biogas can replace all EU natural gas imports by 2020. Other media outlets, blogs and content networking tools have picked up on the story. But apparently there is some confusion about what exactly we presented and where to find more precise references. So let us make them clear.

1. In 2006, the German Green Party (Bündnis 90/Die Grüne) commissioned a study to analyse the potential of biogas - both biogas obtained from anaerobic digestion as well as synthetic biogas (Bio-SNG) obtained from the gasification of biomass - in Germany and in the EU as a whole. It asked in particular for an analysis of the potential to feed biogas into the natural gas grid on a large scale.

2. This study was conducted by two science institutes: the Öko-Instituts - Institut für angewandte Ökologie (Eco-Institute - Institute for Applied Ecology) and the Institut für Energetik und Umwelt (Institute for Energetics and the Environment), two leading German environmental science organisations, known throughout Europe for their work on renewable energy.

The analysis was published under the title: "Möglichkeiten einer europäischen Biogaseinspeisungsstrategie" ("Possibilities for a European biogas feed in strategy") and presented by the Greens to the Bundestag last year.

The two-part document is available - only in German - in one part from the Green party here [*.pdf].

And in its original two parts from the Öko-Instituts:
"Teilbericht I, Potenziale" [Potential], written by Daniela Thrän, Michael Seiffert, Franziska
Müller-Langer, André Plättner, Alexander Vogel.

"Teilbericht II, ökologische und sozialökonomische Analyse" [Ecological and Socio-Economical Analysis], written by Uwe R. Fritsche, Katja Hünecke, and Klaus Schmidt.
German-speaking Biopact members referred to the original study in an earlier article. As far as we know there is no English translation of the report.

4. Because the original study concluded that biogas has such a large potential, German media picked up on it before the document was formally presented to the Bundestag. ZDF (Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen), a large public service German television channel, made a reportage about the report, for a broad audience. ZDF put this reportage online, and Biopact translated it into English (see here) to augment its earlier article. ZDF's short overview of the findings of the report is not meant as a scientific discussion but merely as a presentation for a non-expert audience. Hence it contains figurative expressions (e.g. "with biogas made from one hectare of energy crops per year, you can travel 70,000 kilometers or two times around the world").

5. After seeing the (translation of) the reportage, English-speaking readers have asked for more info about the potential of using grass species as a (single) substrate for the production of biogas, because that would imply the production of a (gaseous) "cellulosic" biofuel of sorts. Well, here are some good starting points:

Last year, the UK Government's Department of Trade & Industry (DTI, now BERR) published a study under its New and Renewable Energy Programme on grass as a biogas substrate. The potential was assessed on the basis of field trials and results (yields, energy balances, economic feasibility, etc...) presented in an analysis with the following reference:
Lucy Holliday, "Rye grass as an energy crop using biogas technology" [*.pdf], Greenfinch Ltd, prepared for DTI, s.d. [2007]. Executive summary and appendices, here [*.html].
A more comprehensive study, covering a wider variety of (herbaceous) energy crops is a PhD dissertation published in 2006:
Annimari Lehtomäki, "Biogas production from energy crops and residues" [*.pdf], Jyväskylä Studies in Biological and Environmental Science, PhD thesis, Jyväskylä University, Finland, 2006.
On the biogas potential of a tropical grass species like sugarcane, see the older paper:
Colen, F. and Pasqual, A., "Sugar cane (Saccharum sp.) juice energetic potential as substrate in UASB reactor", Energia na Agricultura, 2003, Vol. 18, No. 4, pp. 58-71.
Research on grasses as dedicated energy crops for biogas is ongoing throughout Europe. Earlier we reported on research by the Northsea Bioenergy Partnership into sorghum and sudan grass, by a German university on many different sorghums, by a French development agency turned private company working equally on sorghum (here), and on the DTI study dealing with rye grass (previous post). Practical applications are found in Austria, where smooth meadow-grass (Poa pratensis, known in the U.S. as Kentucky bluegrass) is anaerobically digested and the biogas used as a transport fuel. German researchers and companies are active in India in projects that deal with the conversion of bagasse, the abundant cellulosic residue from sugarcane processing, into biogas with the goal of using it, amongst other purposes, as a transport fuel (earlier post and here and here).

Interestingly, in Austria the world's first grass/biogas based biorefinery is being built. The refinery will use grass as a feedstock for the extraction of amino-acids and lactic-acid, - green platform chemicals used for a variety of products - with the remaining biomass cascading towards becoming a substrate for biogas, and in a final step ending up as an organic fertilizer. [Entry ends here].
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Article continues

Researchers make breakthrough in silicon nanowires that convert waste heat into electricity

Energy now lost as heat during the production of electricity could be harnessed through the use of silicon nanowires synthesized via a technique developed by researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California (UC) at Berkeley. The far-ranging potential applications of this technology include (bio)hydrogen fuel cell-powered cars, personal power-jackets that could use heat from the human body to recharge electronic devices and highly efficient, decentralised and miniaturised bioenergy power systems.

The thermoelectric nanowires are especially relevant to bioenergy in that biomass is the only common form of renewable energy that is used as a carbonaceous feedstock in thermal power systems (contrary to wind, hydropower and photovoltaics, which don't generate heat). Converting biomass into electricity while using the large amount of heat released in a useful way, is one of the most cost-effective and energy efficient ways to use the resource - much more so than using it for liquid biofuels. But cogeneration (combined heat and power) and district heating systems are relatively costly or require extensive infrastructures. The new nanowires would allow a new form of efficient waste-heat recovery and could miniaturize decentralised bioenergy systems, making them particularly suitable for the developing world.

As in fossil fuel based thermal power plants, biomass plants are currently only about 30–40 per cent efficient and lose more heat to the environment than is converted into electricity. Capturing this low-grade waste heat directly as electricity could make such power systems far more efficient and make a huge difference in the fight against climate change.

Berkeley researchers Arun Majumdar and Peidong Yang describe their findings in the January 10, 2008 edition of the journal Nature, entitled "Enhanced Thermoelectric Performance of Rough Silicon Nanowires". Majumdar, who was recently appointed director of Berkeley Lab's Environmental Energy Technologies Division (EETD) and is a member of the Materials Sciences Division, is an expert on energy conversion and nanoscale science and engineering. Yang is a leading nanoscience authority with Berkeley Lab's Materials Sciences Division and with the UC Berkeley Chemistry Department.
We’ve shown that it’s possible to achieve a large enhancement of thermoelectric energy efficiency at room temperature in rough silicon nanowires that have been processed by wafer-scale electrochemical synthesis. - Peidong Yang, principal investigator
The study describes a unique "electroless etching" method by which arrays of silicon nanowires are synthesized in an aqueous solution on the surfaces of wafers that can measure dozens of square inches in area. The technique involves the galvanic displacement of silicon through the reduction of silver ions on a wafer’s surface. Unlike other synthesis techniques, which yield smooth-surfaced nanowires, this electroless etching method produces arrays of vertically aligned silicon nanowires that feature exceptionally rough surfaces. The roughness is believed to be critical to the surprisingly high thermoelectric efficiency of the silicon nanowires.

The rough surfaces are definitely playing a role in reducing the thermal conductivity of the silicon nanowires by a hundredfold, but at this time the researchers don't fully understand the physics, said Majumdar. They cannot say exactly why it works, but they definitely the technique's results.

Nearly all of the world’s electrical power, approximately 10 trillion Watts, is generated by heat engines powered by either fossil fuels, nuclear energy or biomass: giant gas or steam-powered turbines that convert heat to mechanical energy, which is then converted to electricity. Much of this heat, however, is not converted but is instead released into the environment - approximately 15 trillion Watts. If even a small fraction of this lost heat could be converted to electricity, its impact on the energy situation would be enormous.
Thermoelectric materials, which have the ability to convert heat into electricity, potentially could be used to capture much of the low-grade waste heat now being lost and convert it into electricity. This would result in massive savings on fuel and carbon dioxide emissions. The same devices can also be used as refrigerators and air conditioners, and because these devices can be miniaturized, it could make heating and cooling much more localized and efficient. - Arun Majumdar, principal investigator
However the on-going challenge for scientists and engineers has been to make thermoelectric materials that are efficient enough to be practical. The goal is a value of 1.0 or more for a performance measurement called the “thermoelectric figure of merit” or ZT, which combines the electric and thermal conductivities of a material with its capacity to generate electricity from heat. Because these parameters are generally interdependent, attaining this goal has proven extremely difficult:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

In recent years, ZT values of one or more have been achieved in thin films and nanostructures made from the semiconductor bismuth telluride and its alloys, but such materials are expensive, difficult to work with, and do not lend themselves to large-scale energy conversions.
Bulk silicon is a poor thermoelectric material at room temperature, but by substantially reducing the thermal conductivity of our silicon nanowires without significantly reducing electrical conductivity, we have obtained ZT values of 0.60 at room temperatures in wires that were approximately 50 nanometers in diameter. By reducing the diameter of the wires in combination with optimized doping and roughness control, we should be able to obtain ZT values of 1.0 or higher at room temperature. - Peidong Yang, principal investigator
The ability to dip a wafer into solution and grow on its surface a forest of vertically aligned nanowires that are consistent in size opens the door to the creation of thermoelectric modules which could be used in a wide variety of situations. For example, such modules could convert the heat from automotive exhaust into supplemental power for a Freedom CAR-type vehicle, or provide the electricity a conventional vehicle needs to run its radio, air conditioner, power windows, etc. You can siphon electrical power from just about any situation in which heat is being given off, heat that is currently being wasted, Majumdar said. For example, if it is cold outside and you are wearing a jacket made of material embedded with thermoelectric modules, you could recharge mobile electronic devices off the heat of your body. In fact, thermoelectric generators have already been used to convert body heat to power wrist watches.

When scaled up, thermoelectric modules could eventually be used in co-generating power with gas or steam turbines fueled by nuclear or carbonaceous feedstocks, including biomass.

The Berkeley Lab researchers will be studying the physics behind this phenomenon to better understand and possibly manipulate it for even further improvements. They will also concentrate on the design and fabrication of thermoelectric modules based on silicon nanowire arrays. Berkeley Lab’s Technology Transfer Department is now seeking industrial partners to further develop and commercialize this technology.

This research was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Basic Energy Science, through the Division of Materials Sciences and Engineering.

Figure 1
(click to enlarge): Rough silicon nanowires synthesized by Berkeley Lab researchers demonstrated high performance thermoelectric properties even at room temperature when connected between two suspended heating pads. In this illustration, one pad serves as the heat source (pink), the other as the sensor.

Figure 2 (click to enlarge): (a) is a cross-sectional scanning electron microscope image of an array of rough silicon nanowires with an inset showing a typical wafer chip of these wires. Figure (b) is a transmission electron microscope image of a segment of one of these wires in which the surface roughness can be clearly seen. The inset shows that the wire is single crystalline all along its length.

Allon I. Hochbaum, Renkun Chen, Raul Diaz Delgado, Wenjie Liang, Erik C. Garnett, Mark Najarian, Arun Majumdar and Peidong Yang1, "Enhanced thermoelectric performance of rough silicon nanowires", Nature 451, 163-167 (10 January 2008) | doi:10.1038/nature06381

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory: Feeling the Heat: Berkeley Researchers Make Thermoelectric Breakthrough in Silicon Nanowires - January 9, 2008.

Article continues

Report: bioenergy key to revive British Columbia's pulp and paper industry

A new report released today by the British Columbia Pulp and Paper Task Force warns that the Canadian province's pulp and paper industry is falling behind its competitors in Europe and requires strategic reinvestments and sound public policy if it is to be renewed. Tapping the opportunities brought by the emerging bioeconomy - based on bioenergy, biofuels, carbon credits and green specialty chemicals - are seen as the key to revitalise this $4-billion industry, a backbone of B.C.'s economy.

The task force, a cooperative which includes labor and industry representatives from all 20 pulp and paper mills in B.C., commissioned Germany researchers from Poyry Forest Industry Consulting to conduct an assessment of the industry's competitive position and its future economic prospects.

The study titled Future Development of BC's Pulp and Paper Industry [*.pdf] found the industry's major challenges include increased global competition, growing concerns about fibre availability and affordability - particularly with the pine beetle epidemic - and rising pressures from the strong Canadian dollar.
The pulp and paper sector has suffered from poor returns on investment for a prolonged period of time due to poor market conditions. The result is that the industry has not made the kinds of capital investments required for a sustainable industry; clearly, this has to change. - David Gandossi, chair of the B.C. Pulp and Paper Task Force
According to the report, due to poor market conditions, capital assets in B.C.'s pulp and paper sector are older than in competing jurisdictions (figure, click to enlarge) and the reinvestment rate is below the level required to sustain their already weak competitive position. In addition, the industry has achieved only a four per cent return on capital employed over the past 15 years, which is far below the minimum 12 per cent return expected for a healthy industry.

On the positive side, B.C.'s pulp and paper sector is well established, it has experienced personnel and global markets continue to offer significant opportunity for companies in B.C. In addition, the industry benefits from a large and high quality fibre basket that can continue to supply a viable pulp and paper sector, particularly if policies are developed that enable the pulp and paper industry to benefit from opportunities in the growing demand for biomass-based energy.

The Task Force says competing jurisdictions have transitioned to a green economy by developing new policies that recognize pulp and paper operations for their renewable electricity, carbon credits, liquid bio-fuels and green specialty chemicals. Government policies in these jurisdictions recognized pulp and paper for its green economy strengths, which resulted in significant industry reinvestment:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

According to the Poyry report, significant capital investments in B.C.'s pulp and paper sector can be encouraged by:
  • developing and supporting energy policies that provide revenue incentives for biomass-based energy produced by the pulp and paper sector;
  • establishing a tax structure - particularly municipal property tax rates - that is more in line with competing jurisdictions;
  • supporting employee training and development at all levels, including apprenticeships, technical training, and management training; and
  • funding research that encourages knowledge-creation and innovation, while supporting the sawmill sector in making the transition to post-pine beetle forest conditions.
The new report is the second in a series of competitiveness studies conducted for the Task Force. Last month, an economic impact study conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP found that B.C.'s pulp and paper industry contributes $4 billion in economic benefits to B.C. and provides jobs for 30,000 British Columbians. The PwC report also found that, since 1990, the industry has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 62 per cent, which is equivalent to removing 600,000 vehicles from Canada's roads.

The Pulp and Paper Task Force is a co-operative made up of representatives of industry, labour and government. It members include all 20 pulp and paper mills located across B.C. As a group, the task force works to present an understanding of the value of this sector to the province of British Columbia. As one of B.C.'s largest industrial employers and single largest consumer of electricity, the sector is the backbone of many communities and contributes extensively to the provincial economy.

Task Force member companies include: Abitibi Consolidated; Canfor Corporation; Canfor Pulp Limited Partnership; Catalyst Paper; Cariboo Pulp; Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada; Domtar; Government of British Columbia; Howe Sound Pulp and Paper; Mercer International; Neucel Specialty Cellulose; Pope and Talbot; Pulp, Paper and Woodworkers of Canada; Tembec; and West Fraser.

Figure: Global industry structure of Northern Bleached Softwood Kraft pulp: technical age of assets versus capacity.

Poyry Forest Industry Consulting Inc.: Future Development of BC’s Pulp and Paper Industry [*.pdf] - January, 2008.

BC Pulp & Paper Task Force: B.C.’s pulp and paper sector in need of renewal – Study [*.pdf] - January 10, 2008.

BC Pulp & Paper Task Force: The Road to Renewal for B.C.’s Pulp and Paper Industry - Fact Sheet.

Article continues

Biofuels advocate wins China's highest science award

The People's Republic of China has honored its leading scientists for their innovative work. Petrochemical scientist turned biofuels advocate Min Enze and botanist Wu Zhengyi shared the highest prize for contributions to their fields. The 'State Supreme Science and Technology Award' is the country's highest national science honor. Chinese president Hu Jintao presented the 5 million yuan (about US$600,000) awards at the annual national science-technology award ceremony at the Great Hall of the People.

Premier Wen Jiabao said in a keynote speech that China had reached a stage in its history where it was more dependent on scientific and technological innovation, and it should strive to enhance its innovative capabilities, which were a national strategic priority. The Communist Party of China should become "friends with scientists" and "extensively take their advice" he said.

The 2007 prize is shared by Min Enze and Wu Zhengyi. 84-year-old Min Enze - who obtained his PhD at Ohio State University in 1951, one of the first Chinese students to do so - is known as the founding developer of China's oil refining catalysts and is recognized for his later work on green chemistry and biofuels as a way to turn China's environmental crisis around. 92-year-old botanist Wu Zhengyi is a renowned plant taxonomist.

Prizes are awarded in five categories, including the Natural Science Award and the Technological Invention Award. This time a record high of 90 projects won awards in these two categories. At the event, it was announced that in 2007 China saw a 30 percent increase in patent applications, signalling the nation's increasing awareness of the importance of scientific and technological innovation.

From black to green chemistry
As a top petrochemical scientist, Min Enze helped kickstart the country's industrial boom 50 years ago. He has devoted most of his life to the petrochemical industry - notorious for its pollution - and began research on green chemistry only seven years ago to search for alternatives.

In a twist of irony, the 84-year-old got the award for his efforts to tackle China's environmental damages through developing an innovative process for manufacturing biodiesel based on hydrogenating natural oils. In 2000, he published a key article titled "The Future of the Refinery", introducing the idea of biodiesel production and integrated biorefineries.

The award review committee praised his work as an explorer in the research and development of petrochemical green chemistry, as well as his efforts to make better biofuel. "Biodiesel research meets the needs of our country," Min said after he received the award from President Hu Jintao:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

He said he has been focusing on green chemistry, particularly biodiesel production, since the turn of the millennium. "I left the things of today to my students, and dedicate myself to the things of tomorrow and the days after," he said.

By the 1980s, it had become clear that chemical processes which eliminate pollution at the source rather than post-treatment were needed. Min, who was vice-president and chief engineer at RIPP, called for basic research and drew up a roadmap for technology innovation.

He led a five-year National Natural Science Foundation of China research project to develop green chemical technologies. Producing biodiesel fuel by developing oil-bearing plants will turn agricultural and forestry products into industrial products, said Min.

However, becoming a chemist was not the scientist's childhood dream. "I wanted to be an engineer to build a bridge across the Yangtze River," he recalled. But his uncle, a banker, wanted him to become an industrialist; so in 1943, Min switched to chemical engineering, an unusual move at that time, he said.

In 1947, Min set sail for the United States and began studying for a PhD at Ohio State University's department of chemical engineering. After the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the US refused to let Chinese students leave - unwilling to let them take the skills and knowledge they had picked up to new China.

So Min stayed and got married in 1950. He worked for a chemical company in Chicago for four years, where he investigated ways to prevent corrosion and deal with the problem of ash deposits in boilers. In 1955, the couple returned to China.

He discovered that refining technology had to be developed from scratch and petroleum refining catalysts were the most needed for the production of aviation fuel.

Min threw himself into new research, and the past four decades have seen him lead the development of manufacturing technologies for new generations of cracking catalysts. Now his green diesel process is pointing the way forward for China's nascent biodiesel industry.

Min, a native of Sichuan Province, is a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciencesis, the Chinese Academy of Engineering and of the Third World Academy of Sciences. The scientists was also a member of the Sinopec Science and Technology Committee and a senior advisor to the Research Institute of Petroleum Processing (RIPP).

China Vitae: Min Enze.

Xinhua: China awards top scientists - January 9, 2008.

EastDay: China awards top science prize to scientists, enterprises - January 8, 2008.

China Daily: Petrol expert turns to biofuel - January 9, 2008.

Article continues

U.S. ecological scientists publish position statement on sustainable biofuels - critical of corn ethanol

The Ecological Society of America, the nation's professional organization of ecological scientists, released a position statement that offers the ecological principles necessary for biofuels to help decrease dependence on fossil fuels and reduce carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global climate change. The Society warns that the current mode of biofuels production in the U.S., mainly based on corn, will degrade the nation's natural resources and will keep biofuels from becoming a viable energy option.
Current grain-based ethanol production systems damage soil and water resources in the U.S. and are only profitable in the context of tax breaks and tariffs. Future systems based on a combination of cellulosic materials and grain could be equally degrading to the environment, with potentially little carbon savings, unless steps are taken now that incorporate principles of ecological sustainability. - Ecological Society of America
According to ESA, three ecological principles are necessary in order to achieve the production of sustainable biofuels

1. Systems thinking: Looking at the complete picture of how much energy is produced versus how much is consumed by extracting and transporting the crops used for biofuels. A systems approach seeks to avoid or minimize undesirable production side effects such as soil erosion and contamination of groundwater. Consistent monitoring is critical to ensure that biofuel production is sustainable.

2. Conservation of ecosystem services: Maximizing crop yield without regard to negative side effects is easy. On the other hand, growing crops and retaining the other services provided by the land is far more challenging, but very much worth the effort. For example, lower yields from an unfertilized native prairie may be acceptable in light of the other benefits, such as minimized flooding, fewer pests, groundwater recharge, and improved water quality because no fertilizer is needed.

3. Scale alignment: How agriculture is managed matters at the individual farm, regional, and global level. Policies must provide incentives for managing land in a sustainable way. They should also encourage the development of biofuels from various sources.

The current focus on ethanol from corn illustrates the risks of exploiting a single source of biomass for biofuel production, says ESA.

Continuously-grown corn leads to heavy use of fertilizers, early return of land in conservation programs to production, and the conversion of marginal lands to high-intensity cropping:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

All of these bring with them well-known environmental problems associated with intensive farming: persistent pest insects and weeds, pollution of groundwater, greater irrigation demands, less wildlife diversity, and the release of more carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that contributes to global climate change. Ironically, one of the touted benefits of biofuels is to help alleviate global climate change, a benefit that is considerably diluted under a high-intensity agriculture scenario.

Like other organizations, ESA is also concerned about the hardship on the nation's poor communities as higher crop prices drive up the cost of food.

It has been said that biofuels have achieved cult-like status and in the rush it is only too easy to overlook the big picture of environmental implications. Iowa alone has planted more than a third of its land surface with corn and, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, the federal government has some 20 laws and incentives to boost ethanol use.

A biofuels infrastructure that incorporates systems thinking, conserves ecosystem services, and encompasses multiple scales can best serve U.S. citizens, the economy, and the environment.

The Ecological Society of America will contribute more to this timely issue in a few months when it convenes a conference devoted to the ecological dimensions of biofuels. This conference, 'Ecological Dimensions of Biofuels', will be held on March 10, 2008 in Washington, DC and will bring together a wide variety of experts in the biofuels arena. The conference will cover the various sources of biofuels -- agriculture and grasslands, rangelands, and forests - and will encompass the private sector and socioeconomic perspectives. Jose Goldemberg, of the Global Energy Assessment Council and Universidade de Sao Paulo, Brazil, will give the keynote address.


ESA: Biofuels Sustainability: Nation's Ecological Scientists Weigh in on Biofuels - January 10, 2007.

ESA: Conference on the Ecological Dimensions of Biofuels.

Article continues