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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creative Commons License

Monday, January 28, 2008

Report: bioplastics could capture 30% of the plastics market by 2020

According to a new market study, the bioplastics market is achieving a fast growth of 8 to 10% per year. The bio-based materials currently cover approximately 10 to 15% of the plastics market, but that share could grow to 25 or even 30% by 2020. The study, by Helmut Kayser Consultancy, also sees the car industry turning green by incorporating ever more bio-based materials in the manufacture of vehicles.

Biopact readers know that researchers have found that bioplastics and renewable, bio-based bulk chemicals from energy crops in general constitute one of the most efficient and potentially most cost-effective uses of biomass and land resources - more so than liquid biofuels in a range of cases (previous post). It seems like this knowledge is increasingly being translated into concrete market activity.

According to the Helmut Kaiser report, the market for bioplastics itself is huge, reaching over US$1 billion in 2007 and will be worth over US$10 billion by 2020. More and more companies are entering and investing in the market with new applications and innovations in the automotive and electronics industry leading the market boom. Over 500 bioplastics processing companies are operating today, with more than 5000 expected by 2020.

For the renewable bioplastics industry, "nontoxic" is the key image, sustainable and environmentally friendly production the driving force. Less than 3 percent of all waste plastic worldwide currently gets recycled, compared with recycling rates of 30 percent for paper, 35 percent for metals and 18 percent for glass, according to an earlier study by Helmut Kaiser Consultancy.

The world’s oil resources are depleting at an amazing speed, the report says. Sustained high prices provide a major incentive for the bioplastic sector to break through for good. Fossil fuels are exhaustible and due to a growing and wealthier global population, these resources will not be sustainable in the future. Conventional plastics are produced from byproducts of the fossil fuel processing industry. They do not degrade in nature and are a leading cause of the destruction of marine biodiversity. In contrast, bioplastics offer a sustainable and nature-friendly alternative the raw materials of which are limitless when new bioconversion technologies emerge. Most importantly bioplastics are most often easily biodegradable, compostable or recyclable.

Technically speaking, bioplastics have overcome most of their initial problems and are now just as durable, workable and flexible as normal plastics.

One of the future advantages of bioplastics can be found in the use of plant sources as renewable materials for a 'cascading' resource strategy: after their useful life, the bio-based products could be further recycled into 'new' biomass feedstocks for thermal, organic or chemical transformation processes that yield entirely new, unrelated products:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The production of bioplastics is not only more environmentally friendly, but also results in lower lifecycle emissions. Like biofuels, they cut greenhouse gas emissions, especially carbon dioxide. In the future, when efficient biomass production and supply chains become available, this GHG reduction advantage might grow further. [See this article for an overview of the lifecycle emissions of green bulk chemicals as compared with those of biofuels.]

According to Helmut Kaiser Consultancy, Europe will become one of the most important markets for bioplastics, due to its limited amount of crude oil reserves. In recent years, bioplastics have been used in the food and packaging industry, medical, toys and textile industries there.

With new innovations expected in the near future, more and more applications for bioplastics will emerge, especially in the automobile industry and electronics sector, in which plastics play a major role. Car companies know that plastic parts made from plants will appeal to 'green' customers and customers who care. Toyota is one of the leading companies in research and usage.

Bioplastics production companies own relatively small dedicated plants and are still in the early stages of development. In the future, they could become integrated in true 'biorefineries' that produce a wide range of products from biomass - from fuels and green platform chemicals, to fiber products and biopolymers.

The Helmut Kaiser study discusses the structure of the bioplastics market, its development worldwide by region, applications and technologies. The markets that are covered include bioplastic manufacturing, bioplastics processing, bioplastic distribution, recycling and the use of renewable raw materials.


Helmut Kaiser Consultancy: Bioplastics Market Worldwide 2007-2025.

Biopact: Researchers find bio-based bulk chemicals could save up to 1 billion tonnes of CO2 - December 17, 2007.

Article continues

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

A key book on the ancient soil improvement technique known as 'terra preta' has just been published. Compiled by Dr Christoph Steiner, who did extensive field work into the technique in Brazil,"Slash and Char as Alternative to Slash and Burn", yields a wealth of insights into the properties of these amazingly fertile 'dark earth soils', into the way they cycle nutrients, into their soil biology, chemical qualities and effects on plant growth. The work also suggests ways to replicate the technique today, with major potential benefits for mankind.

Terra preta soils are based on storing charcoal into the ground, which enhances the fertility, water retention qualities, and chemical and structural properties of the soil. New ways of producing char can be combined with the production of renewable carbon-negative bioenergy, through a process called pyrolysis (schematic, click to enlarge). Pyrolysis involves heating biomass in the absence of air or with very small, controlled amounts of oxygen. The process results in three main products: syngas, tar and char. Depending on the temperatures and amount of oxygen supplied to the system, the fractions of these products can be altered. The syngas can be used to generate electricity or biofuels, whereas the char fraction - called 'biochar' or 'agrichar' - becomes the soil amendment.

Energy and agricultural systems based on biochar could help tackle four of the world's most pressing issues all at once:
  1. they could allow resource poor farmers in the tropics to improve agricultural yields considerably and thus fight poverty and food insecurity;
  2. they can reduce global carbon emissions on a massive scale by creating a stable carbon sink: as plants take CO2 from the atmosphere, store it in their tissue and are then turned into biochar sequestered in soils, the carbon stays locked up for centuries, possibly millenia;
  3. they allow for the production of renewable carbon-negative bioenergy, either in the form of electricity or liquid fuels, and can thus bring energy to millions of the world's rural households who currently lack access to modern energy;
  4. they could become one of the keys to slowing tropical deforestation - itself a major source of greenhouse gas emissions - by prompting millions of shifting cultivators to change their current practise of 'slash and burn' agriculture to 'slash and char' instead. Shifting cultivation is caused by the rapid depletion of soils, forcing farmers to clear forest for new land every few years; in contrast, biochar amended soils would boost soil fertility, bring the farmers higher yields, thus limiting their need to take new land into cultivation.
The amazing potential of these synergies is being recognized by a rapidly growing group of scientists from across the world. They recently created an association called the International Biochar Initiative, aimed at disseminating the knowledge about this agroenergy system. They also strive towards recognition of the carbon sequestration technique by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which is being urged to take it up into the post-Kyoto protocol on climate change. If it did, poor farmers in the developing world would receive carbon credits for storing char into their infertile soils, while enjoying the multiple additional benefits of the system. However, this recognition will only occur with more research into biochar.

This is why Dr Steiner's book is so important: it is a key addition to the growing body of scientific knowledge on terra preta and char amended soils. Based on his PhD thesis, defended before the Faculty of Biology, Chemistry and Geosciences at the University of Bayreuth in Germany, it provides data from actual field trials at several sites in Brazil. Cropping experiments on poor, highly weathered soils there showed that, in combination with fertilizers, char can boost crop yields significantly. Besides discussing the complex agronomy of these results in depth, Steiner also explores indigenous knowledge systems surrounding terra preta, looks at the economics of the system and offers suggestions for integrated applications.

His conclusion hints at a possible future of addressing the intertwined issues of climate change, energy and agriculture in developing countries, through biochar:
Energy from crop residues could lower fossil energy consumption and CO2-emissions, and become a completely new income source for farmers and rural regions. The biochar byproduct of this process could serve to recycle nutrients, improve soils and sequester carbon. [...A] mixture of driving forces and technologies has the potential to use residual waste carbon-rich residues to reshape agriculture, balance carbon and address nutrient depletion.
The work of Dr Steiner and a growing group of terra preta experts is leading to a new vision based on coupling the production of biochar to bioenergy production and carbon markets. First of all, traditional charcoal production could be made more energy efficient and economic:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Instead of relying on wood, biochar would be made from the vast streams of residual biomass that are currently not used productively. These crop residues are often burned by farmers on their fields, which causes major air pollution (especially in places like Northeast China and India). The practise also results in the release of vast quantities of carbon emissions into the atmosphere. In the process, the energy contained in this abundant source of biomass, gets lost.

New biomass conversion techniques, such as slow pyrolysis, are excellent for using these residues efficiently for the production of clean energy and would thus tackle a major environmental problem. These systems allow for the simultaneous production of both a large fraction of char and energy from the combustible, hydrogen syngas. The syngas can be used to fuel generators or turbines for electricity, or can be converted into liquid fuels via the Fischer-Tropsch process. Ideally, small, village-scale pyrolysis and energy generation systems would be designed that allow farming communities to produce their own decentralised electricity as well as the new black gold that can be turned into a carbon sink that offers a boost to their crop yields.

Depending on how much char is returned to the soil, the fuels and energy from the system can effectively become carbon-negative. That is, their use implies one actively removes CO2 from the atmosphere. Other renewables like wind or solar power are 'carbon neutral' at best, in that they do not add carbon emissions but do not remove the climate destructive gas from the atmosphere either. In contrast, carbon-negative bioenergy goes beyond carbon neutrality, by yielding 'negative emissions'.

Carbon-negative bioenergy leads to quite counter-intuitive effects: the more you were to use of it, the more you would be solving the climate crisis. The more miles you drive a car running on carbon-negative biofuel or bio-electricity, the more you would be cleaning up the atmosphere...

On the basis of this exciting agro-energy system, an interesting future becomes imaginable: depending on prevailing market conditions - the price of carbon and the price of electricity or fuels -, farmers will decide dynamically how much of a given biomass stream they will return to soils in the form of biochar, and how much they will turn into energy products they can sell or use locally. For the first operation they receive carbon credits which can be sold, for the latter they receive the price of the particular energy product they chose to produce.

Dr Christoph Steiner is a leading consultant on biochar amended soils. He presented his insights at the Bali Climate Conference, where they received positive feedback. His work and services can be found at Biochar.org. Steiner featured in a BBC documentary about terra preta titled "The Secret of El Dorado" as well as in the film "Terra Preta - Das schwarze Gold des Amazonas", by Peter Adler.

Schematic: biochar based carbon-negative bioenergy system: CC, Biopact, 2008.

Picture: Dr Steiner, during the filming of "Terra Preta - Das schwarze Gold des Amazonas", analysing cassava plants that got a growth boost because of char amended soils. Credit: Christoph Steiner, Biochar.org.

Steiner, Christoph: Slash and Char as Alternative to Slash and Burn. Soil charcoal amendments maintain soil fertility and establish a carbon sink, Cuvillier Verlag, Bayreuth, December 2007.

Christoph Steiner: Slash and Char as Alternative to Slash and Burn - English Summary [*.pdf], Dissertation, Faculty of Biology, Chemistry and Geosciences, University of Bayreuth, Germany, November 2007.

BBC: "The Secret of El Dorado" available at Google video.

Peter Adler: "Terra Preta - Das schwarze Gold des Amazonas".

International Biochar Initiative.

Article continues

Arcadis opens landfill gas plant in Sao Paulo, launches new project in Rio, fetches carbon credits

Netherlands-based Arcadis, an international consultancy, design and engineering company, today announced the official opening of its Sao Joao landfill gas installation and power plant by the mayor of Sao Paulo, Gilberto Kassab. The degassing installation - owned by Arcadis' affiliate Biogás Energia Ambiental - extracts methane gas generated by the 80 hectares Sao Joao landfill. In a world's first, the carbon credits obtained from the project were recently auctioned over the internet. Of all carbon credits from landfill gas issued globally by the UNFCCC, Arcadis takes an 80 percent share.

The biogas from the Sao Joao landfill is used as a biofuel to feed a 24 megawatt power plant the operation of which was started on January 25th. In addition, Arcadis announces the development of a third biogas installation near Rio de Janeiro. This installation is based on the same principle and similar in capacity to Sao Joao. It will generate biogas from the vast Gramacho landfill (picture).

Together, the Sao Joao and Bandeirantes landfill methane gas output is used to generate 340 million Kwh of electricity annually, sufficient power for more than 120,000 households. As a result, the equivalent of 12 million tons of CO2 will be saved in the coming years, which according to the Kyoto Treaty, gets the joint venture 12 million carbon credits. Half of these are shared with the Municipality of Sao Paulo.

These carbon credits were recently sold on the world’s first Certified Emission Reductions (CERs) spot market auction managed and promoted by a regulated exchange - the Brazilian Mercantile & Futures Exchange. The event represented an important initial step in the organization and development of a global market for environmental certificates. The auction was carried out via the Internet. The successful bid came from Belgian-Dutch Bank Fortis, which offered €13.1 million (US$18.5 million, or 16.20 €/tonne) for carbon credits worth the equivalent to 808,405 tonnes of CO2 (previous post):
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Meanwhile, of the remaining 6 million carbon credits that are kept by Biogás Energia Ambiental, a contract for the sale of 5 million of these credits was already signed with the German bank KfW until 2012. Once Gramacho is accredited under the Kyoto protocol, it will generate carbon credits for which Biogás can again seek long term contract buyers.
[...] we assist many municipalities and companies in reducing their carbon footprint, but the scale at which this happens in the land fill gas installations is especially impressive. According to UNFCCC information about 80% of the total of carbon credits issued so far for landfill projects has been derived from the Bandeirantes Project. Sao Joao and Gramacho will add soon to further increase these significant contributions. - Harrie Noy, CEO of ARCADIS:
Arcadis is an international company providing consultancy, engineering and management services in infrastructure, environment and facilities, to enhance mobility, sustainability and quality of life. Arcadis develops, designs, implements, maintains and operates projects for companies and governments. With more than 12,000 employees and over $ 2 billion in gross revenue, the company has an extensive international network that is supported by strong local market positions.

Photo: Gramacho, near Rio de Janeiro. Credit: "Jardim Gramacho" - Marcos Prado.

Arcadis: ARCADIS opens landfill gas plant and announces additional capacity - January 28, 2008.

Biopact: Fortis Bank buys €13.1 million worth of carbon credits from biogas project in Brazil, at first internet auction - September 27, 2007

Article continues

Sinopec reportedly to invest $5 billion in biofuels in Indonesia

Sinopec, China's top oil company, reportedly will cooperate with an Indonesian enterprise to set up biofuel plants and to grow energy crops in Indonesia, with a major investment of US$5 billion. Indonesia's national news agency Antara reported about the project, which would become Sinopec's second large overseas biofuel investment.

The plants and plantations are set to be located in Indonesia's Papua and East Kalimantan regions, and will be used for extracting biodiesel from crude palm oil and jatropha curcas oil. Sinopec will cooperate with PT Puri Usaha Kencana to build the plants as well as to crop oil palm and Jatropha curcas. According to Al Hilal Hamdi, chairman of Indonesia's National Biofuels Task Force, the project is likely to begin this year.

Over the past years, China's state-owned oil company has hinted often at this possible mega-investment. But as oil prices temporarily declined, the issue went off the agenda. Now, with persistent high prices and the oil crisis being felt by ordinary Chinese, it is back.

In January 2007, another oil major, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Indonesian government under which it intends to invest $5.5 billion in the development of the biofuel sector in Indonesia, announcing the establishment of 3 biodiesel processing plants in Kalimantan (earlier post).

For China, biofuels produced overseas are not so much seen as a way to reduce its transport sector's greenhouse gas emissions, but more as a matter of sheer energy security and access to affordable liquid fuel sources, crucial for its economy:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Besides Sinopec and CNOOC, several other Chinese state-owned and private enterprises have announced large biofuels investments in, amongst other countries, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Mozambique and Congo. Most of these investments have gone unnoticed because China is quite discreet about them.

Sinopec is becoming a large player on the world's energy stage and is building its presence in Indonesia. In 2007, it was the successful bidder for the Indonesian National Petroleum Corp's residue hydrotreating catalyst project. The residue hydrotreating catalyst technology is used for the utilization and deep processing of low-grade or heavy crude oil.

Since 2006, Sinopec has speeded up its overseas investment. In 2006, it acquired six international refinery projects worth of US$3.08 billion. In December 2007, Sinopec signed agreement with the Brazilian government for the US$6.5 billion GASCAC gas pipeline project, which will be completed in five years. It is the largest overseas engineering service project of Sinopec Group by the end of 2007.

Other investments

Meanwhile, also in Indonesia, Bronzeoak from Britain plans to invest US$270 million to produce ethanol from sweet sorghum. Bronzeoak will cooperate with the Satria Group to build a factory and plantation in the regency of Belu and Central Timor in East Nusatenggara.

The Sampoerna Group for its part reportedly plans to break the ground to mark the construction of an ethanol plant in Wonogiri, Central Java, before the end of the first quarter of this year. Sampoerno is a leading tobacco producer.

Sustainability problems

Sinopec's plan could accentuate an increasingly heated issue in the biofuels debate, namely that of the 'displacement effect': a country like Indonesia would produce biofuels for exports to Europe, from existing plantations, which are seen as yielding climate friendly fuels under the new EU sustainability rules. While at the same time it would be producing fuels and food products from new plantations for export to non-EU countries, like China. If the latter plantations are based on deforestation, the EU's sustainability rules would have resulted in this displacement effect and would prove to fuel environmental damages.

It is too early to tell whether the effect will play out in this case, because details about Sinopec's plantation plans are unavailable. However, discussions about this theoretical problem will grow larger as more biofuel projects come on line in forest-rich tropical countries.


China Knowledge: Sinopec to invest US$5 bln in Indonesian biofuel project [*cache] - January 24, 2008.

TradingMarkets: China's Sinopec to invest $5 bln on Indonesian biofuel project - January 22, 2008.

MarketWatch: Sinopec to reportedly invest $5 bln in Indonesia biofuel project - January 22, 2008.

PetrolWorld: Indonesia: Sinopec Investing us$5bn in Biofuel Project - January 22, 2008.

Biopact: CNOOC to build 3 biodiesel plants in West Kalimantan - May 07, 2007

Article continues

Bacteria in water buffalo's rumen may help produce cellulosic biofuels

According to a Filipino- American scientist, bacteria in the rumen of a subspecies of water buffalo could help produce lignocellulosic biofuels. Dr. Fiorello Abenes, a professor emeritus of animal and veterinary sciences at CalPoly Pomona University in California, says the Carabao's rumen fluid contains organisms that can help transform rice stubble and straw and other types of non-food biomass into bioethanol.


The natural conversion of biomass in the buffalo's pouch could constitute the first fermentation step that breaks down the difficult cell walls of lignocellulosic biomass, to release the sugars contained in it. It could thus become the 'mother liquor' of ethanol, and make the first and most difficult step in the production of cellulosic ethanol more affordable. A large group of scientists across the world is researching ways to achieve the same goal, but their strategies are mostly based on expensive enzymes, chemical or physical hydrolysis or even synthetic organisms.

When effective techniques are found to convert lignocellulose - the planet's most abundant molecule found in all plants - we enter a world of almost 'endless' biofuels. Waste biomass from forestry and agriculutre is so abundant that its use for biofuels would end the fuel versus food debate.

The theoretical basis for Abenes' findings was discussed in a lecture at the Institute of Graduate Studies at the Central Luzon State University. Results were validated by experiments conducted at the Philippine Carabao Center (PCC).
The experiments confirmed the ability of the model to produce ethanol using rumen microorganisms as first stage fermenters, followed by yeasts in the final fermenting stage.- Dr. Fiorello Abenes
Abenes, who obtained his doctoral degree in animal science at the University of Connecticut in 1975, worked for many years as regional swine specialist in Alberta, Canada, and at the Dairy Training and Research Institute of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations before moving to CalPoly Pomona University. He retired at 55 years old in that university in 2005 and is now engaged in various private enterprises in the United States. Abenes graduated with the degree of agricultural education from the CLSU in 1969. He was among the first Filipinos staying abroad who responded to the government’s Balik-Scientist program in 1975.

Abenes thinks it will not be too difficult to make the bacteria from the buffalo's pouch available on a large scale: "We can extract the rumen fluid from carabao and multiply [it] many times for commercial production of ethanol from biomass,” he said.

The process

In his lecture at the CLSU, Abenes said the carabao is a model for a way to convert lignocellulose to ethanol. Current high tech approaches are too expensive under Philippine conditions, he says.

The carabao is known for its ability to subsist on low quality forage, including rice stubble and straw. This ability is conferred upon the animal by the rumen that digests cellulose and hemicellulose, turning them into methane and volatile fatty acids (VFAs):
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The methane is expelled when the carabao belches while the VFAs are parceled between the host animal and the microorganisms. The host animal uses the VFAs as a source of energy. The microorganisms use them to support its life functions by synthesizing glucose.

Abenes said the feasibility of the method, as suggested by 'the carabao paradigm', has been validated in experiments conducted by the PCC. He said the rumen fluid can turn lignocellulose into fermentable carbohydrates and the fermentable carbohydrates can be turned into alcohol using common yeast.

Abenes, who conducted the experiment with PCC scientist Perla Florendo, said because of the promising results of the experiment they submitted a paper to a national science and technology contest in energy research and development. The researchers have no illusion about winning any prize due to the limited scope of the project but its submission at least documents that the first research in this area was conducted at PCC and CLSU.

He said preliminary calculations based on theoretical models have indicated that as much as 117 liters of alcohol can be distilled from 1,000 kg of biomass materials.

Given the natural abundance of biomass, the use of 85 percent ethanol for flexible fuel vehicles (FFV) may be possible, he said. There is now a technology for the conversion of vehicles using engine fuel to FFV at an affordable cost, he added.

Rural boost

Abenes said the commercial production of ethanol using the carabao model can involve residents of rural areas. They can be part of the factory assembly line by performing the tasks involved in the digestion process (in bioreactor containers) of the biomass material with the use of the rumen fluid that will be supplied to them.

The alcohol from the “bacterial beer” collected from the participating rural residents can be further refined through a solar distiller, he said. The distiller is now being designed by engineers from CLSU, he said.

Abenes also said residents who will be involved in this project can have added income, making the project a boost to rural economy.

Inquirer: Carabao may be key to biofuel, says scientist - January 26, 2008.

Article continues