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    Mongabay, a leading resource for news and perspectives on environmental and conservation issues related to the tropics, has launched Tropical Conservation Science - a new, open access academic e-journal. It will cover a wide variety of scientific and social studies on tropical ecosystems, their biodiversity and the threats posed to them. Tropical Conservation Science - March 8, 2008.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Aker Kvaerner on track to build world's first carbon-negative power plant

Aker Kvaerner announces it is transferring its 'Just Catch' amine absorption technology for post-combustion CO2 capture to the company Aker Clean Carbon, which will focus on developing CO2 capture projects. Aqueous amine solutions function as an absorbent that binds CO2 for removal from exhaust gasses. The company is also developing 'Just Catch Bio', a CO2 capture technology applicable to biomass. This technology is the first step towards the creation of radical negative emissions power plants. Such 'bioenergy with carbon storage' (BECS) plants are the most powerful tool in the climate fight. They not merely 'reduce' emissions to zero (which renewables like wind or solar almost achieve), they go much further and actively remove historic CO2 from the atmosphere.

Under the transferral, Aker Kvaerner will own 30% of the shares in Aker Clean carbon, while Aker ASA will own 70%. Aker Kvaerner will also be responsible for supplying engineering and construction for future CO2 capture facilities. Aker Clean Carbon, in an agreement with the Norwegian government, will complete its first plant at the 420 MW gas power plant at Kårstø on the West Coast of Norway.

The new NOK 725 million (€90/US$133 million) CO2 capture unit at Kårstø will be completed in 2009. The plant will have a capacity to remove 100,000 metric tons of CO2 annually from exhaust gases. Operating costs are estimated at NOK 150 million (€18.7/US$27.5 million) over a three-year period. In its first years in operation, until a public system for transportation and storage of CO2 is in place, Aker Clean Carbon will release the captured CO2 to the atmosphere.

The revolution: going carbon-negative
Meanwhile, Aker Kvaerner has been developing its revolutionary version of the Just Catch technology that uses biomass to produce the energy needed for CO2 capture, instead of fossil energy (previous post). The scrubbing plant would normally use energy from the power station. But by scrubbing both the power station’s flue gases and those from the bioenergy plant, the scrubber will also remove atmospheric CO2 — CO2 that the biomass drew from the atmosphere will be geosequestered, thus yielding negative emissions.

This solution, known as Just Catch Bio (schematic, click to enlarge), is potentially capable of removing 116 per cent of the CO2 emissions from a gas-fired power station. The technology will be tested by Aker Clean Carbon in what would be the world's first truly carbon-negative power plant (Just Catch Bio video here).

This is, however, only a first step towards full biomass-fired power stations coupled to CCS, which can remove large quantities of CO2 from the atmosphere. No other energy system is capable of this. All other renewables - wind, solar, hydro, geothermal - and even nuclear are all carbon-neutral at best, slightly carbon-positive in practise (see table). That is,they generate modest amounts of CO2 emissions during their lifecycle. Carbon-negative bioenergy on the contrary goes much further. It actively cleans up the atmosphere.

Scientists from the Abrupt Climate Change Strategy group, who studied such carbon-negative bioenergy systems in-depth, have found that when we were to replace coal and gas with such systems 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 more than any other technology imaginable. It can do so without the risks attached to far-fetched geo-engineering options.

Carbon-negative bioenergy may appear to be counter-intuitive, because the more we were to use electricity and heat from such systems, the more CO2 we would be taking out of the atmosphere. Consuming more would help fight climate change. Likewise, an electric or hydrogen car that were to utilize this type of bio-electricity or biohydrogen would actively be cleaning up the atmosphere each time you were to drive it... (welcome to the strange world of carbon negative bioenergy). You would not merely be "reducing" CO2 emissions to 100, 80, 50 or 0 grams per kilometer. No, you would be going beyond that, and would be generating -30 or -50 grams per kilometer (yes, that is: minus). In short, each time you were to drive the car, you would be helping the fight against global warming. Clearly, the concept of carbon-negative energy is not yet known by a larger public, because it is relatively new and strange. Mainstream media are uncomfortable with it. But initiatives like Aker Kvaerner's will change that:
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Parallel to the construction of the first carbon capture plant, potentially with the Just Catch Bio system, Aker Clean Carbon will work closely with the SINTEF research center and the Norwegian Institute of Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim concerning their efforts to develop new and improved aqueous amine solutions. Aker Clean Carbon is participating actively in the development work, and will also contribute funding to this development project, which has a total budget framework of about NOK 250 million (US$46 million) over an eight-year period.

More effective amine scrubbing solutions can be a factor that helps cut investment and operating costs for CO2 capture facilities installed at industrial sites and electric power generation plants even further.

In recent years, Aker Kvaerner and Aker have worked intensively on developing new CO2 capture technology. The main purpose of the new Kårstø plant is the development of construction methods and effective execution models that make carbon sequestration so inexpensive that it becomes cheaper to clean emissions than to pollute.

Biopact has reported often on the radical concept of carbon-negative bioenergy and biofuels; on the development of carbon capture technologies needed to make these systems a reality; on the costs of BECS and the biomass fuel for such systems; on potential applications and risks. Some references are listed below.

Aker Kvaerner: Expands CO2 capturing business - January 24, 2008.

Aker Clean Carbon: Invests close to a billion kroner in pioneering carbon capture facility [*.pdf] - January 24, 2008.

Aker Kvaerner: Just Catch CO2 Capture Technology [*.pdf]

Aker Clean Carbon

Biopact: Carbon-negative bioenergy recognized as Norwegian CO2 actors join forces to develop carbon capture technologies - October 24, 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biopact: EU launches DECARBit project to research advanced pre-combustion CO2 capture from power plants - November 21, 2007

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Study: emissions from road transport to make up 75% of all man-made traffic emissions over the next century

According to researchers from the Oslo-based Center for International Climate and Environmental Research (CICERO), road traffic is by large the transport sector that contributes most to global warming. Aviation has the second largest warming effect, while shipping has a net cooling effect on the earth’s climate, they write in an open access study published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Since pre-industrial times, road traffic has contributed around 15% of all man-made CO2 emissions and takes a two-third share of all emissions from transport. But looking at the effects of today’s road emissions on future climate, the researchers predict the share to grow to 75% of the warming caused by transport over the next hundred years. Road transport should therefor be a clear priority for the implementation of green policies that reduce emissions, the researchers say.

The analysis gives some credence to the European Commission's rationale for its 10% target for biofuels: there is no alternative to oil for road transport, as (bio-)electric or (bio-)hydrogen transport systems are not available yet. Biofuels offer the only way to tackle emissions from transport today. Obviously, as much effort as possible should be invested into stimulating the use of low carbon public transport and into transporting goods via rail and waterway. However, this is not likely to make as major a difference as introducing biofuels in the much larger sector of personal, individual road transport.

The new study, “Climate forcing from the transport sectors”, is the first comprehensive analysis of the climate effect from the transport sector as a whole on a global scale. Breaking down the transport sector to four subsectors: road transport, aviation, rail, and shipping, five researchers at CICERO have calculated each subsector’s contribution to global warming. The researchers have looked at the radiative forcing (RF) caused by transport emissions. The RF describes the warming effect in the unit Watt per square meter (W/m2).

Road transport
The study concludes that since preindustrial times, 15% of the RF caused by man-made CO2-emissions have come from the transport sector (graph, click to enlarge). The study also looks at other emissions. For ozon (O3), transport can be blamed for ca 30% of the forcing caused by man-made emissions.

The study implies that more attention needs to be put on the fast growing road sector. Looking solely at CO2 emissions, road traffic alone has led to two-thirds of the warming caused by total transport emissions (this is using a historical perspective looking at emissions since pre-industrial times.) Including all gasses, not just CO2, and looking at the effect today’s road emissions has on future climate, the share is even larger: the road emissions of today will constitute three-fourth of the warming caused by transport over the next hundred years.

For shipping, the picture is more complicated. Until today, shipping has had a cooling effect on climate. This is because shipping emits large portions of the gasses SO2 and NOx, which both have cooling effects. However, although these two gases, until now, have given the shipping industry a cooling effect, this effect will diminish after a while, as the gases don’t live long in the atmosphere. After a few decades, the long-lived CO2 will dominate, giving shipping a warming effect in the long run:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The net cooling effect from shipping does not imply that shipping emissions don’t need to be cut back on. Both SO2 and NOx have other impacts that damage the environment.

A remark can be made here saying that SO2 and NOx are not covered by the Kyoto Protocol; neither is black carbon (soot). Therefore, the Protocol is too narrow to capture the real climate effect of transport emissions, particularly for the shipping sector.

Following road transport, aviation is the second largest transport contributor to global warming. The reason that road transport tops the list is mainly the amount of vehicles on the roads and the smaller cooling effect from their emissions. The researchers have not yet looked at emissions per kilometre or per person at a certain distance using different transport modes.

Also, aviation has a strong contribution to global warming. However, the historical contribution from aviation emissions to global warming is more than doubled by the contribution from road emissions. Over the next 100 years, today’s road emissions will have a climate effect that is four times higher than the climate effect from today’s aviation emissions.

The warming effect by rail emissions is very small, almost not noticable at all, compared to the effects from road transport and aviation.

In general, the transport sector’s contribution to global warming will be continously high in the future. The current emissions from transport are responsible for approximately 16% of the net radiative forcing over the next 100 years. The dominating contributor to this warming is CO2, followed by tropospheric O3.

Graph: Historical development in emissions and radiative forcing for CO2 from the transport sector. (A) Development in CO2 emissions from the various transport subsectors and the fraction (right axis) of total man-made CO2 emissions (excluding land use changes). (B) Development in RF due to CO2 from these sectors.

Jan Fuglestvedt, Terje Berntsen, Gunnar Myhre, Kristin Rypdal, and Ragnhild Bieltvedt Skeie. "Climate Forcing from the Transport Sectors" [open access], PNAS 10.1073/pnas.0702958104, 7 January 2008.

CICERO: Cars Warm Up, Ships Cool Down - January 24, 2008.

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Study: antarctic ice loss increased by 75% in last 10 years, nearly matches Greenland loss

An international team of scientists has found that ice loss in Antarctica increased by 75 percent in the last 10 years due to a speed-up in the flow of its glaciers and is now nearly as great as that observed in Greenland. Results of the study are published in February’s issue of Nature Geoscience.

In a first-of-its-kind study, an international team led by Eric Rignot, professor of Earth system science at UCI and a scientist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., estimated changes in Antarctica’s ice mass between 1996 and 2006 and mapped patterns of ice loss on a glacier-by-glacier basis. They detected a sharp jump in Antarctica’s ice loss, from enough ice to raise global sea level by 0.3 millimeters (.01 inches) a year in 1996, to 0.5 millimeters (.02 inches) a year in 2006.
  • In East Antarctica, small glacier losses in Wilkes Land and glacier gains at the mouths of the Filchner and Ross ice shelves combine to a near-zero loss of 4±61 Gt yr-1.
  • In West Antarctica, widespread losses along the Bellingshausen and Amundsen seas increased the ice sheet loss by 59% in 10 years to reach 132±60 Gt yr-1 in 2006.
  • In the Peninsula, losses increased by 140% to reach 60±46 Gt yr-1 in 2006.
Rignot says the losses, which were primarily concentrated in West Antarctica’s Pine Island Bay sector and the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, are caused by ongoing and past acceleration of glaciers into the sea. This is mostly a result of warmer ocean waters, which bathe the buttressing floating sections of glaciers, causing them to thin or collapse. Changes in Antarctic glacier flow are having a significant, if not dominant, impact on the mass balance of the Antarctic ice sheet.

To infer the ice sheet’s mass, the team measured ice flowing out of Antarctica’s drainage basins over 85 percent of its coastline. They used 15 years of satellite radar data from the European Earth Remote Sensing-1 and -2, Canada’s Radarsat-1 and Japan’s Advanced Land Observing satellites to reveal the pattern of ice sheet motion toward the sea. These results were compared with estimates of snowfall accumulation in Antarctica’s interior derived from a regional atmospheric climate model spanning the past quarter century:
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The team found that the net loss of ice mass from Antarctica increased from 112 (plus or minus 91) gigatonnes a year in 1996 to 196 (plus or minus 92) gigatonnes a year in 2006. A gigatonne is one billion metric tons, or more than 2.2 trillion pounds. These new results are about 20 percent higher over a comparable time frame than those of a NASA study of Antarctic mass balance last March that used data from the NASA/German Aerospace Center Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment. This is within the margin of error for both techniques, each of which has its strengths and limitations.

Rignot says the increased contribution of Antarctica to global sea level rise indicated by the study warrants closer monitoring.
Our new results emphasize the vital importance of continuing to monitor Antarctica using a variety of remote sensing techniques to determine how this trend will continue and, in particular, of conducting more frequent and systematic surveys of changes in glacier flow using satellite radar interferometry. Large uncertainties remain in predicting Antarctica’s future contribution to sea level rise. Ice sheets are responding faster to climate warming than anticipated. - Eric Rignot, professor of Earth system science at UCI, scientist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
The lead researcher adds scientists are now observing these climate-driven changes over a significant fraction of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, and the extent of the glacier ice losses is expected to keep rising in the years to come. Even in East Antarctica, where ice mass is found to be in near balance, ice loss is detected in its potentially unstable marine sectors, warranting closer study, he said.

Other organizations participating in the NASA-funded study are Centro de Estudios Cientificos, Valdivia, Chile; University of Bristol, United Kingdom; Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands; University of Missouri, Columbia, Mo.; and the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, De Bilt, The Netherlands.


Eric Rignot, Jonathan L. Bamber, Michiel R. van den Broeke, Curt Davis, Yonghong Li, Willem Jan van de Berg & Erik van Meijgaard, "Recent Antarctic ice mass loss from radar interferometry and regional climate modelling", Nature Geoscience, Published online: 13 January 2008 | doi:10.1038/ngeo102

Univeristy of California, Irvine: Antarctic ice loss speeds up, nearly matches Greenland loss - January 23, 2008.

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Philips patents TU Eindhoven's energy return system to feed solar and wind power into the grid

An increasing number of private individuals supply excess electricity from bioenergy. Think of farmers who produce biogas from organic waste and use it in combined heat and power plants. They feed excess energy into the grid and take electricity back only when they need it. But when individuals use intermittent energy sources such as wind or solar, they face storage and transfer problems. The wind does not always blow, the sun doesn't shine all day. This is a major disadvantage of renewables that cannot provide baseload power.

However, Dutch-sponsored researcher Haimin Tao examined how this problem can be solved and found interesting parts of the solution. Electronics giant Philips has acquired a patent for a part of this system - a clear signal of its viability.

When efficient energy storage and grid-feeding products for intermittent renewables become available, the electricity grid of the future might begin to resemble an 'internet of energy', in which people become both consumers and decentralised producers, 'uploading' and 'downloading' electricity packages (previous post).

In a project funded by Technology Foundation STW, Haimin Tao examined the conditions such a good regulation system for energy transfer must meet. As the sources and storage elements vary considerably in terms of aspects such as voltage level, the conventional conversion technique needed to be improved. The search for improvements focused on soft switching, reduction of current amplitudes and a greater efficiency.

To safeguard the quality of the power flows, the researcher sought the appropriate regulators and storage systems so that the energy generated by external sources could be (temporarily) stored in suitable components, such as batteries and supercapacitors:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Eventually he arrived at a triple port system that rendered energy transfer between different sources possible. As the new triple port converter transforms the energy in a single step, it could be more cost effective, flexible and efficient than the conventional approach.

Philips, which participates in the STW users' committee for the research project, saw a marketable idea in the system. Following the testing of an experimental system, a patent was applied for and obtained. Philips might use the patent for future products.

NWO: Philips patents TU Eindhoven's energy return system - January 11, 2008.

Biopact: Future electricity grid could become a type of Internet with personal 'uploads' and 'downloads' - October 24, 2007

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Japanese firm to produce ethanol from tropical sago palm

Japan-based Necfer Corp. (New Century Fermentation Research Ltd.) plans to build a demonstration plant in Malaysia to manufacture bioethanol from sago palm trees — possibly the first such endeavor in the world. Sago is a highly efficient energy crop, producing large amounts of starch and yielding more ethanol per hectare than any other currently grown biofuel crop. Necfer has developed its own dedicated fermentation technology to convert the resource into biofuel.

The true sago palm (Metroxylon sagu) has been described as mankind's oldest food plant with the starch contained in the trunk used as a staple food in southeast Asia (earlier post). Traditionally, hunter-gatherers use a complex and labor-intensive process of felling the tree, splitting it open, removing the starch and cleaning out its poisonous substances, after which it is ready to be consumed (picture, click to enlarge). The carbohydrate itself is very nutritious and some of us may have even tasted it because some modern starch products (tapioca flour) are made from it. As these sago-growing hunter-gatherers migrate to the cities, they abandon their healthy starch-rich diet and choose for fat and sugar food habits that don't differ much from ours.

But the sago palm remains, in the wild. The International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI), which strives towards diversifying the world's agricultural crop base and maximizing the potential of less known plant species, considers the palm to be a typical 'underutilized' crop. It published an easily accessible but comprehensive study about sago [*.pdf], in its series about "neglected and underutilized species". The study shows the potential of the crop, where and how it is currently used, which barriers there are to increasing its use, and which environmental problems could be associated with its cultivation.

One of the potential uses of the sago palm's starch is renewable bulk chemicals, biopolymers (previous post) and ethanol. Throughout its lifecyle, the tree with its very high photosynthetic ability accumulates large amounts of starch in its trunk, reaching a maximum when it is about 15 years old, right before its (single) inflorescence occurs. In the wild, around 5 tonnes of starch per hectare can be harvested, but plantations show yields of up to 30 tons per year.

Necfer aims to harvest on average 15-20 tons of starch per hectare per year, equatating to around 8,000 to 10,000 liters of ethanol per hectare - more than any other current biofuel system is capable of, including sugarcane. Sago starch is of such a quality that ethanol conversion efficiencies of up to 72% can be obtained (for hydrated ethanol). It is thus one of the most productive energy crops suitable for liquid fuels. Add that residual biomass can be used as a feedstock for the production of power and heat.

Necfer was founded by Ayaaki Ishizaki, professor emeritus of Kyushu University, and uses the “Ishizaki process” — a fermentation process based on the bacterium Zymomonas. According to Necfer, Zymomonas is a bacterium with a much higher growth and fermentation rate than yeast:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

It is not clear whether Necfer's venture will evolve around a new sago plantation, but one thing is certain: the crop suffers from a lack of research and development, most notably in crop improvement, phytopathology and plantation management techniques. Despite yearly symposia on sago, the palm has a long way to go before it will be used on a large scale.

Here and there, things are moving, though. The Malaysian government has started a 50,000 hectare plantation with sago palms in Sarawak, and considers it to be a crop with large potential for the development of a biofuels industry. Sago is set to become the second pillar of Malaysia's bioenergy program [*.pdf].

The crop grows in a select type of humid low-land forest, especially in Papua New Guinea, Malaysia and Indonesia. Its large-scale cultivation would almost certainly involve deforestation, leading to sustainability problems.

Picture 1: sago palm logs ready to be processed at a large mill in Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia. Courtesy: Pelita, Malaysian Land Custody and Development Authority, Sago Development website.

Picture 2: people in Papua New Guinea using the traditional technique to harvest and clean sago starch.

Kyodo: Venture firm to build sago bioethanol plant in Malaysia - January 24, 2007.

Michiel Flach, Sago palm, Metroxylon sagu Rottb. [*.pdf] Promoting the conservation and use of underutilized and neglected crops. 13. IPGRI International Plant Genetic Resources Institute.

Biopact: Sago, an interesting but underutilized ethanol crop - June 25, 2006

Biopact: Notes on biopolymers in the Global South - March 11, 2007

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