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

    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.

Creative Commons License

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Commission supports carbon capture & storage - negative emissions from bioenergy on the horizon

As part of its ambitious climate and renewables policy, the European Commission supports the development of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies and says it will take them up in the European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). This is the much needed impulse that will allow for the development of the world's most radically green energy system: the production of negative emissions energy by coupling CCS to biomass instead of coal. Carbon-negative bioenergy systems are the ultimate weapon in the climate fight.

Carbon capture and storage is often discussed in the context of fossil fuels: when CO2 from power plants is captured before or after the production of power, and consequently stored in geological formations, the energy from the use of these fuels becomes relatively clean. Emissions can be reduced to levels equal to those of other renewables. But CCS technologies can become far more radical when they are applied to power plants that utilize renewable biomass or gaseous biofuels instead of coal, oil or natural gas. In this case, such 'bio-energy with carbon storage' (BECS) systems produce heat and power that actually removes CO2 from the atmosphere. No other energy system is capable of this.

The difference is quite extreme (see table). An ordinary coal-fired powered plant generates anywhere between 800 and 1000 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour of electricity (gCO2eq/kWh) and thus contributes heavily to the greenhouse effect. When CCS is coupled to such a plant ('clean coal'), emissions can be reduced substantially, down to the level of photovoltaic power systems (around 100 to 150 gCO2eq/kWh). All other renewables are slightly carbon positive over their lifecycles, that is, they contribute tiny amounts of CO2 to the atmosphere. Nuclear comes close to being genuinely 'carbon neutral'. But biomass coupled to CCS is 'carbon negative' in a very strong way. Such BECS systems can take up to 1030gCO2eq/kWh out of the atmosphere. This makes them the most radical tool in the fight against climate change.

Systems that yield negative emissions from bioenergy have major advantages over 'clean coal'. When CO2 is geosequestered in formations such as depleted oil & gas fields or saline aquifers, leakage could occur. This is seen as a major risk. But when the CO2 is biogenic in nature, this risk disappears because in case of leakage there would be no net contribution of CO2 to the atmosphere.

Another advantage is that when using biomass as the fuel, very large net negative emissions can be obtained (more than minus 1000gCO2eq/kWh). This is obviously a major advantage when emission reductions get a price and are traded on a market. Researchers have found that BECS systems could compete well with when both coal prices remain at current levels, and when the carbon price hovers at around €30 per ton.

The technologies to make CCS a reality are being developed. The European Commission's formal support will give developers assurances that the technology is being recognized and will play a part in the ETS; this will speed up their emergence. The only real bottleneck for biomass systems coupled to CCS, is the cost of the feedstock. Currently biomass is slightly more costly than coal, but the fossil fuel has been increasing in price rapidly. Over the coming years biomass production and supply chains will become more efficient, substantially lowering the price of the fuel (according to projections by the IEA's Bioenergy Task 40). Coal prices are expected to keep increasing.

Additionally, solid biomass can be imported from countries with a large and highly efficient production potential, mainly found in subtropical and tropical climates, where biomass crops (grasses, plantation trees) grow very well. Shipping the green fuel in bulk to CCS power plants in Europe is not expected to drive up the cost much. Alternatively, biomass can be densified first and then shipped out.

Scientists from the Abrupt Climate Change Strategy group, who studied the system in-depth, have found that when carbon-negative bioenergy systems were to replace coal on a global scale, we could return the atmosphere to its pre-industrial CO2 levels by mid-century. In other words, biomass coupled to CCS can cool the planet. The more we use electricity and heat from BECS systems, the more CO2 we take out of the atmosphere (we are not merely 'reducing' our carbon intensity, we go much further, we go 'negative').

Now that the European Commission supports CCS, it offered an interesting Q & A of the technologies involved, current research efforts, risks, legislative concerns and frameworks, the role of CCS in the ETS, and costs. The document is summarised here:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The technology
Carbon capture and storage is a suite of technological processes which involve capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the gases discarded by industry and transporting and injecting it into geological formations.

The major application for carbon capture and storage (CCS) is to reduce CO2 emissions from power generation from fossil fuels, principally coal and gas, but CCS can also be applied to CO2-intensive industries such as cement, refineries, iron and steel, petrochemicals, oil and gas processing and others. After capture, the CO2 is transported to a suitable geological formation where it is injected, with the aim of isolating it from the atmosphere for the long term.

There are storage options other than geological storage such as storage in the water column and mineral storage. Storage in the water column is considered to present a high environmental risk and the Commission's proposed directive on CO2 geological storage bans it within the Union. Mineral storage is currently the subject of research. Developments will be kept under review.

How does geological storage work?
There are four main mechanisms which trap CO2 in well-chosen geological formations. The first is structural trapping, which is the presence of an impermeable cap-rock which prevents CO2 to escape from the outset. The second is called residual CO2 trapping where CO2 is trapped by capillary forces in the interstices of the rock formation, which develops about 10 years after injection. The third is solubility trapping where the CO2 dissolves in the water found in the geological formation and sinks because CO2 dissolved in water is heavier than normal water. This becomes important between 10 and 100 years after injection. Finally, mineral trapping happens when dissolved CO2 chemically reacts with the formation rock to produce minerals.

Why the need for CCS?
While energy efficiency and renewables are in the long term the most sustainable solutions both for security of supply and climate, EU and world CO2 emissions cannot be reduced by 50% by 2050 if we do not also use other options such as carbon capture and storage.

Timing is crucial. About a third of existing coal fired power capacity in Europe will be replaced within the next 10 years. Internationally, China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Mexico's energy consumption will lead a major global demand increase, which is likely to be met in large part from fossil fuels. The capacity to deal with these very substantial potential emissions must urgently be developed.

Is CCS technically mature?

The separate elements of capture, transport and storage of carbon dioxide have all been demonstrated, but integrating them into a complete CCS process and bringing costs down remain a challenge.

The biggest CO2 storage projects that European companies are involved in are the Sleipner[1] project in the North Sea (Statoil) and the In Salah[2] project in Algeria (Statoil, BP and Sonatrach). Both projects involve stripping CO2 from natural gas – a process which is already carried out before the gas can be sold – and storing it in underground geological formations. The Sleipner project was spurred on by the Norwegian tax on carbon dioxide which was significantly higher than the cost per tonne of CO2 stored in the Sleipner geological formation. The In Salah project was triggered by BP's internal carbon trading system. Other demonstration projects underway are the Vattenfall project at Schwartze Pumpe[3] in Germany which is due to be operational by mid-2008 and the Total CCS project in the Lacq basin in France. The European Technology Platform on Zero Emission Fossil Fuel Power Plant (ETP-ZEP), a stakeholder initiative supported by the Commission, has identified some 15 full-scale demonstration projects that could go ahead once the necessary economic framework is in place.

How much will carbon capture and storage cost?

The cost of CCS involves partly capital investment on equipment to capture, transport and store CO2, and partly the cost of operating this equipment to store the CO2 in practice – such as the amount of energy required to capture, transport and inject the CO2. At current technology prices, up-front investment costs are about 30 to 70 % (i.e. several hundred million euros per plant) greater than for standard plants and operating costs are currently 25 to 75% greater than in non-CCS coal-fired plants. These costs are expected to substantially decrease as the technology is proven on a commercial scale.

When will widespread deployment happen?

Uptake of CCS will depend on the carbon price and the price of the technology. If the price per tonne of CO2 avoided by CCS is lower than the carbon price, then CCS will begin to be deployed. Although both of these prices remain highly uncertain, the climate and energy package will serve to stabilise them to some extent.

The EU Emissions Trading System will recognise CO2 captured, transported and safely stored as not having been emitted. The revision to the system to implement the trading sector's share of the European Union's 20% GHG reduction target should ensure a robust carbon price.

The Communication on Supporting Early Demonstration of Sustainable Power Generation sets out the Commission's commitment to early effective demonstration of CCS and calls for timely and bold industry and public initiatives. The aim of demonstration is to learn from practical integration of the process components on a commercial scale. The enabling legal framework will apply to demonstration projects and all other future CCS projects. With demonstration projects in place, the price of the technology should decrease substantially over the next ten years.

According to the Commission's projections laid out in the Impact Assessment of the proposal for a directive on the geological storage of carbon dioxide the uptake of CCS on a commercial scale is likely to begin some time around 2020 and increase substantially after that.

Who will bear the cost?

The proposal to enable CCS will not impose additional costs over and above those required to meet the 20% greenhouse gas reduction target. Once CCS is mature, it will be for individual operators to decide whether to release emissions and pay ETS allowances to cover them or use CCS to reduce their emissions and their ETS liabilities. The maximum an operator will pay will be largely set by the carbon price: CCS will only be deployed if the cost per tonne of CO2 avoided is lower than the carbon price. In this respect the carbon price internalises the climate cost of CO2 emissions. Depending on the conditions in the market in question, operators may pass on a portion of the carbon cost to consumers. (See MEMOs on effort sharing and revised ETS proposal)

In the early phase, CCS demonstration projects will require additional finance over and above the incentive provided by the carbon market because the current cost of the technology is substantially higher than the carbon price. To catalyse this additional finance, decisive financial commitment from industry will be crucial and Member State support measures are also likely to play a major role.

In view of the importance of early demonstration of CCS in power generation and given that a number of those projects may require some public funding, the Commission is ready to view favourably the use of state aid for covering the additional costs related to CCS demonstration in power generation projects. This commitment is reflected in the revised Environmental State Aid Guidelines adopted with the package.

Will CCS be made mandatory?

Not at this stage. The Commission proposal enables carbon capture and storage by providing a framework to manage environmental risks and remove barriers in existing legislation. Whether CCS is taken up in practice will be determined by the carbon price and the cost of the technology. It will be up to each operator to decide whether it makes commercial sense to deploy CCS.

The Impact Assessment for the proposed directive examines the implications of making CCS mandatory. While there will be some early CCS deployment, this would come at significant cost and would provide no clear advantage neither in stimulating technological development and improving air quality nor in promoting the earlier uptake of CCS by non-EU countries. Making CCS mandatory would also run counter to the market-based approach of the European Trading System. Also, mandating a technology that is yet to be demonstrated on a commercial scale presents risks that are not currently justified.

However, this situation may evolve. To meet GHG reductions beyond 2020, the deployment of CCS will be essential, and by 2015 the technological options will be clearer. So if commercial take-up of CCS is slow, policy-makers will be obliged to look again at the compulsory application of CCS technology.

How will CCS be treated under the EU Emissions Trading System?

The ETS will provide the main incentive for CCS deployment. CO2 captured and safely stored according to the EU legal framework will be considered as not emitted under the ETS. In Phase II of the ETS (2008-12) CCS installations can be opted in. For Phase III (2013 onwards), under the proposal to amend the Emissions Trading Directive, capture, transport and storage installations would be explicitly included in Annex I of the ETS.

How much will CCS contribute to reducing CO2 emissions in the EU?

The precise contribution will depend on the uptake of CCS, but projections made for the Impact Assessment of the proposed directive show that, with CCS enabled under the ETS and assuming a 20% GHG reduction by 2020 and further significant progress towards our mid-century objective by 2030, 7 million tonnes of CO2 could be captured in 2020, rising to around 160 Mt in 2030. The CO2 avoided in 2030 would represent around 15% of the reduction required in Europe[4]. Estimates for the potential global contribution are similar, in the order of about 14% by 2030[5].

What type of sites will be selected and how?

There are two main kinds of geological formation that can be used for CO2 storage: depleted oil and gas fields, and saline aquifers (groundwater bodies whose salt content makes them unsuitable for drinking water or agriculture).

Site selection is the crucial stage in designing a storage project. Member States have the right to determine which areas of their territory are free to be used for CO2 storage. Where exploration is required to generate the necessary information, exploration permits must be issued on a non-discriminatory basis, valid for 2 years with the possibility of extension.

A detailed analysis of the potential site must be carried out according to criteria specified in Annex I of the proposal, including modelling of the expected behaviour of CO2 following injection. The site can be used only if this analysis shows that under the proposed conditions of use there is no significant risk of leakage, and that no significant health or environmental impacts are likely to occur.

The initial analysis of the site is done by the potential operator, who then submits the documentation to the Member State competent authority in the permit application. The competent authority reviews the information and if it satisfied that the condition is met, issues a draft permit decision.

For the early storage projects the proposal includes an additional safeguard. To ensure consistent application of the directive across Europe and promote public confidence in carbon capture and storage the draft permits may be reviewed by the Commission with the assistance of a scientific panel of technical experts. The Commission's opinion will be public, but the final permitting decision remains with the national competent authority according to the subsidiarity principle.

Will storage be allowed outside the EU?

The proposed directive can only regulate storage within the European Union and (if it is incorporated into the EEA Agreement, as the Commission expects to happen, the European Economic Area. Emissions stored in these regions, in accordance with the proposed directive will be considered as not having been emitted under the ETS. Storing CO2 emissions outside the European Union will not be banned, but any emissions so stored will receive no credit under the ETS, thus providing little incentive to store carbon dioxide in this way.

What is the risk of leakage? What will happen if a site leaks CO2?

The risk of leakage will depend very much on the site in question. The IPCC Special Report on CCS concluded that:

'observations...suggest that the fraction [of CO2] retained in appropriately selected and managed geological reservoirs is very likely to exceed 99% over 100 years and likely to exceed 99% over 1000 years'[6].

The key issue is thus the appropriate selection and management of sites. The requirements on site selection are designed to ensure that only sites with a minimal risk of leakage are chosen, and the review of draft permit decisions by the Commission – assisted by an independent scientific panel – will provide additional confidence that the requirements will be implemented consistently across the EU.

A monitoring plan must be set up to verify that the injected CO2 is behaving as expected. If, despite the precautions taken in selecting a site, it does leak in practice, corrective measures must be taken to rectify the situation and return the site to a safe state. Emissions Trading Allowances must be surrendered for any leaked CO2, to compensate for the fact that the stored emissions were credited under the ETS as not emitted when they left the source. Finally, the requirements of the Environmental Liability Directive on repairing local damage to the environment will apply in the case of leakage.

Who will be responsible for inspecting CO2 storage sites?

The competent authority in Member States must ensure that inspections are carried out to verify that the provisions of the proposed directive are observed. Routine inspections must be carried out at least once a year, involving examination of the injection and monitoring facilities and the full range of environmental effects from the storage complex. In addition, non-routine inspections must be carried out if any leakage has been notified, if the operator's annual report to the competent authority shows that the installation is not compliant with the proposed directive, and if there is any other cause for concern.

How is the responsibility for the site ensured in the long term?

Geological storage will extend over much longer periods than the lifespan of an average commercial entity. Arrangements are needed to ensure the long-term stewardship of storage sites. The proposal thus provides for sites to be transferred to Member State control in the long term. However, the polluter pays principle requires that the operator retain responsibility for a site while it presents a significant risk of leakage. Also, rules are needed to ensure that no distortion of competition arises from different Member State approaches. Under the proposed directive a storage site shall be transferred to the state when all available evidence indicates that the CO2 will be completely contained for the indefinite future. As this is the second key decision in the lifecycle of a storage site (the first being the decision to permit the site for use), a Commission review is proposed.


European Commission website on carbon capture and storage.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: Special Report on Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage.

Biopact: EU Commission presents climate and renewable energy package - January 23, 2008

Biopact: Commission presents European Strategic Energy Technology Plan: towards a low carbon future - November 23, 2007

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

Further reading on potential applications:
Biopact: Pre-combustion CO2 capture from biogas - the way forward? - March 31, 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: EU launches DECARBit project to research advanced pre-combustion CO2 capture from power plants - November 21, 2007

Article continues

The bioeconomy at work: new technique developed for modifying natural fibre products

The VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has developed a method that opens up new opportunities for the use of lignin-containing wood fibres and other natural fibres as well as fibre products. The method offers an innovative, environmentally friendly approach to customize or even to introduce completely new properties – such as moisture repellency or electric conductivity – to fibre-containing products.

With the emergence of the bioeconomy, a whole new range of by-products arises from the production of bioenergy and biofuels. Lignin-rich fibres are one of the largest residue streams currently available, for which a growing number of innovative applications is being developed. The longterm goal of the bio-based economy is to integrate the manufacture of renewable products based on these residues - from green platform chemicals to new specialty products - in socalled 'biorefineries'.

VTT's new chemo-enzymatic modification method for fibre materials enables manufacturers to better tailor the fibre properties according to the desired end product. The method can be used to enhance the original properties or even to introduce new properties to lignin-containing fibre materials. To achieve the desired modification, suitable chemical compounds are attached to the material in a chemical or enzymatic process.

Wood fibre products are moisture absorbent by nature. The new method makes it possible to control the moisture resistance properties of lignin-containing fibre materials even to a degree where they become water-resistant. This opens up new opportunities for the use of wood fibres e.g. in the packaging industry.

Manufacturers in branches of industry such as the biocomposites, building and speciality paper and packaging industries, utilising materials containing lignocellulosic fibres in composite structures, can benefit from VTT’s method for developing various product properties. For example, the process can be used to make antistatic filter papers:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

VTT’s chemo-enzymatic method differs from the available chemical modifications in its surface targeted and gentle action. It can also easily be integrated in existing manufacturing and finishing processes of fibres and fibre materials.

Anna Suurnäkki, Senior Research Scientist at VTT, says chemo-enzymatic fibre modification creates new opportunities for the processing of existing fibre products and for manufacturing innovative, tailored fibre products in the paper and packaging process. In the future, tailored wood fibres may present a viable alternative for example to synthetic fibres in various industrial composites.

Picture: a range of natural fibers that have been tested with the new technique. Credit: VTT.

VTT: New method for modifying products containing wood fibres developed in Finland - January 23, 2008.

Article continues

The bioeconomy at work: researchers develop low-cost, bio-based technique to make antimicrobial paint

Researchers at The City College of New York (CCNY) and Rice University have developed a low-cost, environmentally friendly technique for embedding antimicrobial silver nanoparticles into vegetable oil-based paints. The method, to be reported in the March issue (online January 20) of Nature Materials, could give homes and workplaces a new defense against germs by applying a fresh coat of bio-based, nanoparticle-rich paint.

Silver’s antibacterial properties have been known for thousands of years, and silver nanoparticles offer superior antibacterial activity while being non-toxic. However, coatings containing antimicrobial agents have failed commercially in the past due to their complex, multi-step preparation methods and high cost of production.

The CCNY/Rice team developed a 'green chemistry' approach to synthesize metal nanoparticles in common household paints in situ without using hazardous reagents and solvents. Instead the researchers extensively worked on poly-unsaturated hydrocarbon chain containing polymers/oils to devise a novel approach to nanoparticle formation that is based on biological processes, said Dr. George John, Professor of Chemistry at CCNY and lead author of the article.

Polyunsaturated hydrocarbons undergo auto-oxidation-induced cross-linking, which is similar to lipid peroxidation, the process by which fatty acids are oxidized in biological systems. During this process a variety of chemically active species called ‘free radicals’ are generated. These were used by the group as a tool to prepare metal nano-particles in situ in the oil medium.

The simplicity of the process and economics should allow the scientists to commercialize these paints as a versatile coating material for health and environmental applications, says Dr. Pulickel M. Ajayan, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at Houston-based Rice University, and co-author:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Using the same approach they think they will be able to produce a large variety of nano-particle dispersions useful in applications ranging from healthcare to catalysis, added co-investigator Dr. Ashavani Kumar, a postdoctoral research associate at Rice.

The nanoparticle embedded coating can be applied like traditional paints to such surfaces as metal, wood, polymers, glass, and ceramics. The metal nanoparticles show characteristic color but avoid the use of short shelf-life organic pigment paints.

In addition, these coatings exhibited efficient antibacterial activity toward Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus). The antibacterial property is important for hospitals and other public buildings that are prone to bacterial growth, a main cause of infection and disease.

“We have been working on developing various in situ methods for organic soft matter-mediated metal nanoparticle synthesis,” noted Dr. Praveen Kumar Vemula, one of the investigators. “However, to date, the present approach is the smartest as it is devised based on utilization of naturally occurring process.”

Ashavani Kumar, Praveen Kumar Vemula, Pulickel M. Ajayan & George John, "Silver-nanoparticle-embedded antimicrobial paints based on vegetable oil", Nature Materials, Published online: 20 January 2008; | doi:10.1038/nmat2099

Article continues

Florida awards $25 million to biofuel and bioenergy projects in "Farm to Fuel" initiative: 25% of all energy from biomass by 2025

Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles H. Bronson has announced the recipients of $25 million in renewable energy grants. The 12 entities chosen were among 76 vying for the awards, which were funded by the Florida Legislature last spring. The grants are part of the “Farm to Fuel” initiative, a program designed to get Florida’s agriculture industry to produce an impressive 25 percent of the state’s energy needs by the year 2025 in an effort to reduce Florida’s dependency on foreign oil and to keep land in agriculture.

The grants award both research, demonstration and finalisation projects dealing with the production of advanced liquid biofuels obtained from both thermochemical and biochemical conversion processes, gaseous biofuels, electricity and heat from biomass, and bioproducts.
We believe that awards such as these are critical in triggering the development of a renewable energy industry in Florida. With the backing of and an investment from the state, we’re hopeful that these projects will yield positive results and serve as a catalyst for major commercial investment in this industry. - Charles H. Bronson, Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner
The entities chosen for the grants are investing nearly $157 million of their own resources into their renewable energy projects. The proposals were evaluated on a number of factors, including their use of Florida-grown crops or biomass to produce energy, their potential to expand agribusiness in the state, preliminary market research and the efficiency of their use of energy and other material resources.

Last spring, the Florida Legislature authorized and Governor Charlie Crist signed into law the “Farm to Fuel” Grants Program to provide matching grants for demonstration, commercialization, and research and development projects involving bio-energy. As part of the program, $25 million was appropriated to stimulate investment in projects that produce renewable energy from Florida-grown crops or biomass.

The winners of this year’s “Farm to Fuel” grants are:

  • Gulf Coast Energy of Walton LLC: Awarded $7 million, in a commercial project grant for the construction and operation of both an ethanol and biodiesel plant in a $62 million project in Mossy Head, Florida. This project will build and operate a tandem biodiesel and ethanol production facility. Construction on Phase 1 will begin in the next few months at the Northwest Florida Commerce Park. Actual production of biodiesel is expected by the end of this year and of ethanol in early 2009. The ethanol will be produced using cellulosic materials such as wood waste, and the biodiesel with a blend of chicken fat and soybean oil. The two processes will work well together in that the ethanol process generates methanol which is required in biodiesel production, and the biodiesel process generates glycerin which can be used along with the woody material for ethanol production. In addition, the project’s technology recycles 100% of the carbon dioxide resulting in a state of the art environmental performance while reducing the U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
  • U.S. Envirofuels LLC: Awarded $7 million, in a commercial project grant for the construction of a $47 million ethanol production plant in Highlands County. This project aims to construct a 20 million-gallon-a-year ethanol production plant using sugar products. The primary feedstock is sweet sorghum which is not a food crop, uses less water and fertilizer than sugar or corn crops and grows rapidly. Water used in the production process will be treated and reused and other byproducts will be sold as high- potassium fertilizer. Supplemental feedstock will also include sugar cane, cane milling byproducts and other sugar crops produced by local growers. Site planning and conceptual plant design are done and permitting is about to begin. The plant will use several technologies to ensure the finished products are low carbon ethanol, green renewable power, bio-fertilizer, beverage grade liquid carbon dioxide, and treated water for process recycling and irrigation.
  • Liberty Industries: Awarded $4 million, in a commercial project grant for the construction and operation of a $38 million Liberty County facility that will produce ethanol and electricity using primarily forest waste products. The project will initially produce 7 million gallons of ethanol and 5.4 Megawatts of electricity using predominantly forest waste products. That capacity is expected to be doubled in 2-3 years and subsequently expanded even more. The technology using gasification and fermentation has been successfully used in a pilot demonstration. The feedstock will include forestry waste, waste products from sawmills and to a lesser extent waste from nearby straw, peanut and cotton crops. In addition, the technology can use all carbon based materials and the company intends to also use discarded tires, plastics and municipal waste, reducing the amount of waste going into the landfill. Another environmental benefit is the plant’s waste product is ash, certified by the USDA as environmentally safe.
  • Agri-Source Fuels: Awarded $4 million, in a commercial project grant for the construction of a $21 million biodiesel plant in Pensacola. This project will build a biodiesel production plant with an annual output of 20 million gallons of biodiesel. Agri-Source is an existing EPA registered biodiesel producer in Dade City, Florida. The business has improved the process (B100) by reducing production time by 30%, resulting in a 15% energy savings. The increased production will help meet the growing demand for biodiesel fuel by government vehicle fleets. Agri-Source also intends to construct the only operating National Biodiesel Board certified laboratory in Florida and a glycerin refinery which will transform waste by product into a useful commodity. The production process reduces all regulated emissions by 90% compared to petroleum diesel, including carbon monoxide.
  • University of Florida: Awarded $500,000, in a research and development grant to develop a catalytic chemical reactor system to convert woody biomass to biodiesel. This is a research and development grant to perform research to develop a catalytic chemical reactor system to convert woody biomass to biodiesel. It seeks to develop the most efficient and effective catalyst for the conversion of synthesis gas to biodiesel, and design a plan for industrial operation. As Florida is the top producer of biomass in the country and ranks third in the nation in energy consumption, the project would focus on the potential of producing 9 million gallons of biofuels a year from an estimated 93 million tons of dry biomass created each year in Florida, allowing the state to move forward in its quest of energy independence.
  • Southeast Biofuels LLC: Awarded $500,000, in a demonstration grant to build a nearly $6 million pilot plant in Auburndale to produce ethanol from citrus peels. This is a demonstration grant to Southeast Biofuels to build a commercial demonstration and pilot plant on property leased from Cutrale Citrus Juices USA Inc. in Auburndale to produce ethanol from citrus peels. Located in Florida’s citrus belt, the plant would begin by using a 10,000 gallon fermenter and some 67,000 pounds of citrus peels per batch, and then upgrading capacity, in the production of ethanol. The ultimate goal of the project is to design and build a full-scale commercial plant capable of generating 8 million gallons of ethanol a year by using and disposing of 800,000 tons of citrus waste annually.
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::
  • Sigarca Inc.: Awarded $499,500, in a research and demonstration project involving the construction of a 3,000-square-foot bioenergy plant on the grounds of the Southeastern Livestock Pavilion in Ocala to process horse waste into renewable energy. This is a research and demonstration project that will build a 3,000-square-foot bioenergy demonstration plant on the grounds of the Southeastern Livestock Pavilion in Ocala, Florida. Working with the University of Florida and other partners, the company will use its patented dry fermentation process to process horse waste into renewable energy and other agricultural products, including organic soil and soil tonic. The project’s objectives are to demonstrate the potential to convert animal waste to bioenergy and other useful agricultural products while at the same time offering Florida’s animal industry a productive, easy to operate and environmentally superior method to dispose of animal waste.
  • University of Central Florida: Awarded $498,000, in a research and development grant to demonstrate the viability and cost effectiveness of technology developed at the university to convert farm and animal waste into renewable energy. This is a research and demonstration project for generating clean-burning synthetic fuels made from biomass and animal waste throughout Florida. One of the key objectives of the research is to demonstrate the viability and cost-effectiveness of technology developed and patented by UCF that uses an advanced thermocatalytic process to convert the materials into liquid fuel. The successful implementation of the technology involved would benefit farmers in finding new uses for their farm and animal waste, and would reduce environmental problems associated with disposal of animal waste in Florida.
  • Florida Institute of Technology: Awarded $415,520, in a research and development grant to cultivate and research various strains of Microalgae capable of producing biodiesel. This is a research and development project in which Florida Institute of Technology, along with its partner Aurora Biofuels Inc., is developing what it describes as the next generation of biofuels – biodiesel from microalgae. Its potential is promising as microalgae is naturally oily, grows quickly, produces more bio-oil per acre than traditional crops and can be grown on marginal land unsuitable for food crops. The project calls for the cultivation and testing of microalgae in outdoor ponds for the purpose of selecting specific strains capable of resisting contamination and showing the greatest promise in producing biodiesel. One of the key benefits of the research is to develop a novel source for biodiesel that does not strain the food supply chain and can be developed in rural areas without depleting natural resources.
  • Applied Research Associates Inc. of Panama City: Awarded $203,130, in a research and development grant involving converting cellulosic materials such as sugarcane byproducts to fermentable sugars for a more cost-effective way of producing ethanol. This is a research and development grant which will assist in the demonstration of hydrothermal saccharification (CHS), a process that converts cellulosic materials, such as sugarcane bagasse, to fermentable sugars for a more cost effective production of cellulosic ethanol. The conventional process for converting cellulosic material to ethanol involves a multi-step process which is often too costly to enable this type of ethanol production to be competitive in the alternative fuel market. This process uses high-temperature water to achieve saccharification in a single and continuous processing step. In order to speed up technology demonstration and the success of cost effective cellulosic ethanol production, ARA is collaborating with Florida Crystals Corporation (FCC). Success of this project will result in a significant cost savings to the cellulosic ethanol industry. The project is expected to be completed within one year.
  • Applied Research Associates Inc. of Panama City: Awarded $182,832, in a research and development grant to demonstrate a new technology in converting crop oils into biodiesel. This is a research and development grant to enable Applied Research Associates to demonstrate a new approach to converting crop oils into biodiesel, called catalytic hydrothermolysis (CH). The one year project would use locally grown soybean, peanut and cotton seed crops with a process that would significantly increase efficiencies and biodiesel output. The applicant already has research and development capabilities at its Panama City facilities which will speed up progress and cut costs for the proposed demonstration project. The novel conversion process has the potential to increase biodiesel production from soybeans by 900 percent. It would also significantly increase output of biodiesel from peanut and cotton seed crops.
  • Neptune Industries Inc.: Awarded $158,270, in a research and development project that would create a pilot-scale floating algae production system in quarry lakes in South Florida to produce algae capable of being converted into biodiesel. This is a research/demonstration project in which Neptune Industries Inc. would create a pilot scale floating algae production system using quarry lakes in semi-tropical South Florida to produce algae capable of being converted into biodiesel. By locating the production system in natural water bodies, fish waste would be produced and provide essential nutrients in the form of nitrogen and phosphorous to promote algae growth. The advantage of such research would be a demonstration of the feasibility of using a non-food source in the production of biodiesel, thus sparing the strain on corn, soybeans and other food crops which have become increasingly more expensive as a portion of those crops have been diverted to the production of renewable energy.

Picture: one of the awarded projects aims to convert bagasse, the fibrous waste from sugarcane processing, into liquid biofuels.


Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services: Bronson Announces ‘Farm To Fuel’ Grant Winners; Projects To Share In $25 Million To Spur Renewable Energy Industry - January 22, 2008.

Florida Farm to Fuel project website.

Article continues

EU Commission presents climate and renewable energy package

The European Commission has today agreed on a far-reaching package of proposals that will deliver the European Council's commitments to fight climate change and promote renewable energy. The proposals demonstrate that the targets agreed last year are technologically and economically possible and provide a unique business opportunity for thousands of European companies, it says.

These measures will dramatically increase the use of renewable energy in each country and set legally enforceable targets for governments to achieve them. All major CO2 emitters will be given an incentive to develop clean production technologies through a thorough reform of the Emissions Trading System (ETS) that will impose an EU-wide cap on emissions. The package seeks to deliver the European Union to reduce greenhouse gases by at least 20% and increases to 20% the share of renewable energies in the energy consumption by 2020, as agreed by EU leaders in March 2007. The package also contains a binding 10% minimum target for biofuels in transport. The emissions reduction target will be increased to 30% by 2020 when a new global climate change agreement is reached.


In January 2007 the European Commission put forward an integrated energy/climate change proposal that addressed the issues of energy supply, climate change and industrial development (earlier post). Two months later, European Heads of State endorsed the plan and agreed to an Energy Policy for Europe (previous post).

The plan called for a:
20% increase in energy efficiency
20% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions
20% share of renewables in overall EU energy consumption by 2020
10% biofuel component in vehicle fuel by 2020

These targets are very ambitious: today 8.5% of energy is renewable. To achieve a 20% share by 2020 will require major efforts across all sectors of the economy and by all Member States.

A European approach is needed to ensure that the effort for reaching the 20% target is shared equitably between Member States. Furthermore, there must be investor certainty regarding the objectives and the pathway to be followed.

The Commission's proposal
To achieve the renewable energy policy goals, the European Commission has proposed a Directive. This aims to establish national renewable energy targets that result in an overall binding target of a 20% share of renewable energy sources in energy consumption in 2020 and a binding 10% minimum target for biofuels in transport to be achieved by each Member State.

Three sectors are implicated by renewable energy: electricity, heating and cooling and transport. It is up to the Member States to decide on the mix of contributions from these sectors to reach their national targets, choosing the means that best suits their national circumstances. They will also be given the option of achieving their targets by supporting the development of renewable energy in other Member States and third countries.

The minimum 10% share of biofuels in transport is applicable in all Member States. Biofuels tackle the oil dependence of the transport sector, which is one of the most serious issues affecting security of energy supply that the EU faces.

Finally, the Directive also aims to remove unnecessary barriers to the growth of renewable energy - for example by simplifying the administrative procedures for new renewable energy developments – and encourages the development of better types of renewable energy (by setting sustainability standards for biofuels).

Target calculation
If the overall 20% target for renewables is to be reached in an effective manner, the individual targets for each Member State have to be determined as fairly as possible. The Commission has therefore put forward a simple five-step approach:
  • The share of renewable energy in 2005 (the base year for all calculations in the package) is modulated to reflect national starting points and efforts already made for Member States that achieved an increase of above 2% between 2001 and 2005
  • 5.5% is added to the modulated 2005 share of renewable energy for every Member State
  • This remaining effort (0.16 toe for each person in the EU) is weighted by a GDP/capita index to reflect different levels of wealth across Member States, then multiplied by each Member State's population
  • These two elements are added together to derive the full renewable energy share of total final energy consumption in 2020
  • Lastly, an overall cap on the target share for renewable energy in 2020 is applied for individual Member States.
According to the Commission, this method of setting the targets provides for a fair distribution of effort across Member States. At the same time, the creation of a tradable guarantee of origin regime allows Member States to reach their targets in the most cost-effective manner possible: instead of developing local renewable energy sources, Member States will be able to buy guarantees of origin (certificates proving the renewable origin of energy) from other Member States where the development of renewable energy is cheaper to produce.

The 10% target for renewable energy in transport has been set at the same level for each Member State in order to ensure consistency in transport fuel specifications and availability. Member States which do not have the relevant resources to produce biofuels will easily be able to obtain renewable transport fuels from elsewhere. While it would technically be possible for the European Union to meet its biofuel needs solely from domestic production, it is both likely and desirable that these needs will in fact be met through a combination of domestic EU production and imports from third countries:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Concerns have been raised about whether biofuel production is sustainable. Whilst biofuels are a crucial part of renewable energy policy and a key solution to growing emissions in the transport sector, they must not be promoted unless they are produced sustainably. Although the majority of biofuels currently consumed in the EU are produced in a sustainable manner, the concerns are legitimate and need to be addressed. The Directive therefore sets out stringent environmental sustainability criteria to ensure that biofuels that are to count towards the European targets are sustainable and that they are not in conflict with our overall environmental goals. This means that they must achieve at least a minimum level of greenhouse gas savings and respect a number of requirements related to biodiversity. Among other things this will prevent the use of land with high biodiversity value, such as natural forests and protected areas, being used for the production of raw materials for biofuels.

Biofuels cost more than other forms of renewable energy and without a separate minimum target for biofuels, they will not be developed. This matters because greenhouse gas trends are worst in transport, and biofuels are one of the few measures – alongside vehicle fuel efficiency – realistically capable of making a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions from transport. In addition, the oil dependence of the transport sector is the most serious security of supply problem of all. And finally, we must remember to send the right signals for the future: the old cars of 2020 are being built today. Vehicle manufacturers need to know what fuel to design for.

Advantages of renewables
The numerous benefits of renewable energy - in terms of the impact on climate change, security of energy supply and the long-term economic benefits - are widely accepted. The Commission's analysis shows that achieving our renewable energy targets will mean the following:
  • Savings of 600 to 900 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year – holding back the rate of climate change and sending a signal to other countries to do the same
  • Reductions in fossil fuel consumption of 200 to 300 million tonnes per year, most of it imported – making energy supplies more certain for European citizens
  • A boost for high-tech industries, new economic opportunities and jobs
All this will cost approximately €13-18 billion per year. However, this investment will drive down the price of the renewable energy technologies that will form a growing part of our energy supply in the future.

Renewable energy makes economic sense
With oil prices at today's levels, renewables are increasingly seen as an economically sound alternative. With increased deployment of renewable energy sources, we can expect to see the cost of renewable energy continue to fall over time, in a pattern similar to information technology. Indeed, costs have already fallen significantly in recent years.

Last year, global investment in sustainable energy increased by 43%. Market revenues for solar, wind, biofuels and fuel cells are forecast to increase to approximately €150 billion by 2016, while record levels of investment in wind, solar and biofuels reflect technological maturity, a growth in policy incentives and increased investor confidence.

Continued and expanded deployment will continue this process. Conversely, the cost of fossil fuels, notably oil, has been steadily increasing since 1998. The dynamics at play are clear: falling renewable energy prices, rising fossil fuel energy prices.

But the use of renewable energy sources also contributes to increasing local and regional employment opportunities. Renewable energy in the EU has a turnover of €30 billion, providing approximately 350 000 jobs. Employment opportunities are vast, ranging from high-tech manufacturing of photovoltaic components to maintenance jobs at wind power plants or in the agricultural sector producing biomass.

The EU's proactive policies on renewable energy provide an industrial opportunity. By beginning the transition to a low carbon economy earlier than would otherwise be the case, the need for more radical and sudden adjustment is reduced. Money will be saved on imported fossil fuels, and greater diversity of energy sources ensures that the European Union is better protected against external shocks.

Renewable energy makes environmental sense
The renewable energy target is closely linked with our greenhouse gas emissions target. Without significantly increasing the share of renewable energy in the EU's energy mix it will be practically impossible to meet the EU's objectives for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

But the term "clean energy" doesn't just apply to reducing greenhouse gas emissions – it also covers traditional pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxides and particulates. These are as detrimental to our health as they are to the environment.

Fossil fuel energy causes environmental impacts all along the chain: from extraction and production to transportation and end-use. With renewable energy these negative effects are minimised, if not removed altogether.

Of course renewable energy is not always a flawless solution and certain environmental and aesthetic concerns cannot be denied, but new technological solutions will contribute to lessening this impact over time. Looking at the bigger picture, however, there is no doubt that the adverse effects of climate change have far greater significance.

Renewable energy means secure energy supply
Our dependence on a limited number of energy sources (oil and gas) is of increasing concern. Oil is no longer a cheap commodity that we can afford to take for granted. Oil prices fluctuated around $25-30 during the first years of this decade but today hover at around $100 per barrel.

From a security of supply perspective, EU renewable energy is mostly generated in the EU. This means that it is less subject to supply disruptions and mitigates fuel price increases. It makes sense, therefore, to produce more of our own energy, and from a growing variety of renewable energy sources. A diverse supply of energy is a more secure supply of energy.

EU Citizens favour renewable energy
Changes in consumer attitudes towards green energy are also becoming increasingly apparent. Surveys show that customers value the environmental benefits of renewable more than conventional polluting energy sources and prefer electricity companies that supply at least part of their power from renewable energy technologies.

According to a Eurobarometer opinion survey undertaken in January 2007, 55% of European citizens perceive great future promise in the use of renewable energies. 60% think that energy research should be a priority for the European Union.

Moreover, citizens appear to support changing the energy structure, enhancing research and development and guaranteeing the stability of the energy field.

Many of them think that guaranteeing low energy prices and continuous supply of energy should be a priority for national government and 40% are prepared to pay more for energy from renewable sources.

These sources clearly underline the importance of renewable energies to Europe's citizens. More and more consider that increasing our use of renewable energy is fundamental in order to live in a clean, sustainable and safer environment.

Renewables in the EU today
The European Union is already a world leader in renewable energy and the sector has huge and growing economic importance worldwide. It is the EU's ambition to stay at the forefront of this fast-developing area. So far, however, development has been uneven across the EU, and renewable energies still represent only a small share of the EU’s total energy mix relative to the dominance of gas, oil and coal.

Different renewable energies are at different stages of technological and commercial development. In certain locations and under certain conditions, sources such as wind, hydro, biomass and solar thermal are already economically viable. But others, such as photovoltaic, will depend on increased demand to improve economies of scale and lower costs.

Currently, two EU directives in the field of renewable energy are in force: one for electricity and one for biofuels. The third sector, heating and cooling, has been excluded at European level so far. The 2020 target setting offers an opportunity to propose one comprehensive directive covering all three sectors of renewable energies. This makes it possible to put in place both individual measures in the different sectors and to address cross cutting issues (e.g. support schemes and administrative barriers). A single directive and single national action plans will encourage Member States to think of energy policy in a more integrated way, concentrating on the best allocation of resources.

The European Commission's new Directive sets out the renewable energy targets and aims to provide a stable and integrated framework for all renewable energy, which is critical to ensure investors have the confidence needed to make renewables play their envisaged role. At the same time, the framework is sufficiently flexible to take into account the specific situations in Member States and to ensure that they have leeway to meet their targets in a cost-effective manner, including through an improved regime for transfers of guarantees of origin. In addition, the Directive contains specific measures to remove barriers to renewable energy's development such as excessive administrative controls and to encourage greater use of better-performing types of renewable energy.

European Commission: Boosting growth and jobs by meeting our climate change commitments - January 23, 2008.

European Commission: Building a global low-carbon economy - January 23, 2008.

European Commission: Memo on the Renewable Energy and Climate Change Package - January 23, 2008.

EuTube: video on renewables in the European Union.

Biopact: EU unveils energy policy for the 21st century: towards a 'low carbon economy' with renewables - January 10, 2007

Biopact: EU reaches historic deal on renewables, biofuels and carbon emissions - March 09, 2007

Article continues

British campaign against EU biofuels fails

Today, the European Commission will unveil its proposals setting out how the EU will meet targets on energy and climate. In the run up to this event, a British campaign against liquid biofuels was launched with the aim of influencing the decision making process. This campaign failed. It might however be interesting to analyse in detail how this coordinated attack was mounted, because it yields some insight into the reasons why resistance to biofuels is so great in the UK and not elsewhere. What follows is baded on extensive communication with biofuels experts across mainland Europe and Brazil.

First let's look at the shots that were fired over the past few days, all in the time-span of less than one and a half week.
  • The campaign began with the BBC airing a five week old interview with EU Environment Commissioner Dimas, in which he said nothing that wasn't already known; namely that the Commission is working on sustainability criteria for biofuels. However, the BBC presented this weeks old interview with its old insights as 'news' and tried to hint at possible conclusions that were totally unjustifiable on the basis of what Dimas actually said a month earlier - namely that the EU is 'revising' its biofuels policy and could lower targets. The review process was announced more than a year ago.
  • Next, the British Royal Society published a report about the advantages and disadvantages of biofuels; it was a relatively objective and rather shallow study, not presenting any new facts about biofuels. The authors acknowlegde that the report mainly offers a status questionis, even though it looks at future biofuels and biorefineries, mainly seeing them as a necessary and useful step towards more efficiency. However, some media only highlighted the well known negatives about biofuels contained in that report.
  • Shortly after, Greenpeace UK supposedly 'leaked' an internal, non-reviewed report about biofuels written by the EU's Joint Research Center. The report was six months old, well known by the bioenergy community, contained nothing new, and was not formally peer-reviewed. Because this study was seen by other experts as being too much on the side of the petroleum industry, a critique also leveled against the JRC's earlier controversial well-to-wheel study on future fuels and propulsion concepts - it has never been published. However, Greenpeace 'leaked' it to the press - acting as if the EU Commission has anything to hide. This was a bit of a weak attempt by Greenpeace UK to discredit a fairly open consultation and decision making process by the EU.
  • Finally, a report by a British group of MPs came out, calling for the abandonment of biofuels targets. This report was quickly debunked by the EU Commission itself, because it is, and we have to agree here, one of the most static and shortsighted reports on biofuels ever written. First, it (again) contains nothing new; secondly, it draws highly subjective conclusions on the basis of facts that allow for exactly the opposite conclusions (e.g. the idea that rising prices for agricultural commodities could damage developing countries, while many an economist has argued the opposite); third, because it contains a large number of factual errors (e.g. extrapolating findings from a localised Swiss study, to biofuels as such); fourth, because it presents an extremely static view on biofuels, not taking into account neither their evolvement and the role of change through science and technology, nor the possibility of trading fuels dynamically across continents. Lastly, because it doesn't contain any analysis of the many other benefits of biofuels (energy security, rural development, North-South cooperation, etc...); this total lack of perspective does not justify the sweeping conclusions contained in the report, let alone a call for the abandonment of targets.
This barrage of arguments, all coming out at the same time, contains some much needed warnings that have to be taken seriously. But the way in which they were levelled and their origin, has led many an observer to suspect that there's more to this campaign.

So why would precisely Britain be so much against biofuels? Why hasn't the criticism come from, say, France or Germany, two European countries with much more weight within the EU?

There seems to be some agreement on the manifold reasons, which appear to be quite obvious. We sum up those given by some European and Brazilian biofuels experts, who we contacted for their opinion.

First, Europe has only two major oil companies, both having tremendous power but feeling threatened by EU climate and biofuel policies. Their headquarters are based in London. The petroleum industry is known for its war against biofuels, not only in Europe, but elsewhere. Biofuels, and especially the next generation based on very abundant and low value biomass, present a real threat to the sector. If the EU were to retain its 10 per cent target (which it will), then this gives the signal for a rapid development of a viable biofuels industry that could replace much more oil after the 10% target has been reached. The British petroleum industry, which offers the UK its socalled 'petrobonus' (a huge national income), would obvisouly prefer not see this happen.

Secondly, the EU's Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) mainly benefits countries with a large farming community, such as France. As is well known, Britain has always been the number one enemy of the CAP. The introduction of ambitious biofuels targets - which stimulate agriculture and forestry in these countries further - would obviously be to the disadvantage of the UK, whose farming sector is relatively small and receives very little under the CAP. Note that Biopact is in favor of CAP reform, but this doesn't mean biofuels have to become the victim of an attack on the CAP. Biofuels and the rationale for their introduction, should be seen independently from agriculture reform.

Thirdly, of all major European countries, the UK has a relatively small local biofuels potential. To meet the EU's ambitious targets, the country would have to import biofuels from abroad - from mainland Europe or from countries like Brazil:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

In principle this should not be problematic (see Sweden, for example, which has been importing large quantities of ethanol from Brazil), but for the UK it is, as the time-frame in which it would have to invest in such import chains, biofuel infrastructures and biofuel capable cars is much shorter than that of countries that already proactively made policies to make this transition (again, see Sweden).

Fourth, the UK has no car manufacturing industry left. Mainland Europe, and especially France , Scandinavia and Germany, do. These countries also happen to have a large biofuels potential. Car manufacturers are set to play an important role in getting biofuels off the ground, by offering flex-fuel vehicles. To give just one example of what this means to manufacturers: the Saab Bio-Power, which runs on E85 and even pure ethanol, has been a runaway success, offering Saab one of its best selling cars in years. This new outlook for car manufacturers in mainland Europe is welcomed by many, but obviously not by the UK which no longer has such a sector.

Fifth, the world's largest food multinationals are all Anglo-American and British. These UK-based food concerns have been waging a long campaign against the biofuel sector, because the industry has pushed up raw materials prices. Even though the raw materials price for vegetable oils, grains and sugar, makes up only a small fraction of the cost of producing processed food - meaning consumers should not feel it in their pocket -, this lowers some of the food industry's margins.

These are some of the possible reasons suspected to be behind last week's coordinated attack on biofuels, coming solely from the UK. Although one can understand Britain's perspective on the issue, it would be unwise to have the entirety of Europe's biofuels policy depend on such national considerations.

EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs therefor reacted quite angrily against his week of campaigns, putting the record straight: biofuels do definitely reduce greenhouse gas emissions (some not much, others in a great way), they definitely contribute to energy security by allowing for the diversification of fuel sources, they offer the only alternative to oil (electric or hydrogen fleets are decades away, and the climate problem must be tackled today), and finally, the biofuel sector offers chances for development cooperation with poorer countries.

To stress the last point, Piebalgs will travel to Brazil over the coming months, to see the industry's model at work, and to find out whether this highly efficient and largely sustainable system can be replicated in other countries, mainly African, where the potential is so large.

Article continues