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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.

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

Interdisciplinary "Centre for Innovation in Carbon Capture and Storage" launched

An interdisciplinary research centre dedicated to reducing the planet’s carbon emissions from fossil fuels has been established at The University of Nottingham. The £1.1 million Centre for Innovation in Carbon Capture and Storage (CICCS) will explore cutting edge technology that captures polluting carbon dioxide and stores it permanently in geological formations and soils or transforms it into useable and stable products — preventing its damaging release into the atmosphere.

Biopact tracks developments in carbon capture and storage (CCS), because the technologies can be (and are already being) applied to bioenergy to yield radical 'negative emissions' that remove historic CO2 from the atmosphere. Scientists have estimated that if applied on a global scale, such 'bio-energy with carbon storage' (BECS) systems can bring atmospheric CO2 levels back to pre-industrial levels by mid-century (2060). BECS is the most radical tool in the climate fight. Only bioenergy systems can become carbon negative, all other renewables and nuclear always remain carbon positive and contribute (small amounts of) CO2 to the atmosphere over their lifecycle.

Bioenergy coupled to CCS comes in many different forms. The most obvious one is applying the technologies of pre-combustion capture, oxyfuel combustion or post-combustion capture to power plants that burn solid biomass. In this case, BECS systems can yield negative emissions as large as minus 1000 grams of CO2 per kWh (compared with emissions from photovoltaic solar power: +100 gCO2eq/kWh, non-CCS biomass or wind power: +30gCO2/kWh, or nuclear power : +10gCOeq/kWH - see table, click to enlarge). Alternatively, CCS can be coupled to the production of liquid and gaseous biofuels, during which it captures CO2 emerging during the production phase (a first example). Its largest potential for biofuels can be found in its application to the production of fully decarbonised biofuels such as biohydrogen or bio-ammonia.

Bioenergy with carbon storage has multiple advantages and overcomes the main risk associated with CCS applied to fossil fuels: leaks of climate damaging CO2 from the geosequestration site. When CO2 originally captured from fossil fuels leaks, it contributes to climate change. But when bio-genic CO2 leaks, there is no net addition. However, for CCS to become feasible, a lot of incentives are needed, sound legislation and strong policy has to be introduced, and technology advancements must be made.

The CICCS will contribute to tackling these challenges. The Centre will be investigating new technologies that will store greenhouse gases from power plants safely and efficiently. From governments and environmental pressure groups to oil producers and energy-intensive industry, interdisciplinary research taking place at the centre will have a potentially global impact.

The CICCS will participate in a large number of research and development programmes, including the European Research Fund for Coal and Steel (RFCS), other EU programmes, Research Councils and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) cleaner coal technology programme. CICCS's main programmes are:
  • Cleaner coal technology: this programme supports the power industry through research on gas clean-up (mercury, CO2 and NOx), coal beneficiation, PF combustion, gasification, and combustion by-products control
  • CO2 capture - new high capacity adsorbents for cleaner coal technology: (1) high capacity adsorbents for more efficient capture in traditional pulverised fuel (PF) combustion and integrated combined cycle gasification are being developed. (2) Novel and cost-effective processing of nanomaterials with high surface area and high thermal stability for carbon capture.
  • Carbon geological sequestration: (1) saline aquifers and brines from oil and gas wells are being studied to ensure the integrity of long-term geological storage. (2) storage in red muds at the point of capture. (3) storage in unmineable coal seams.
  • Terrestrial CO2 storage - establishing reliable leakage monitoring with a soil gas release facility; terrestrial CO2 storage can come in the form of biochar systems (previous post)
  • Advanced concept-mineral carbonation to develop a CO2 sequestration module that uses silicate minerals to sequester carbon dioxide into a permanent, solid and stable form (an example can be found here).
  • Light harvesting: Long-term usage involving using light energy for the photochemical conversion of CO2 into fuels or chemicals.
  • Tackling public acceptability and regulatory issues through a broad sociological study of carbon capture and storage technologies and envisioning a new carbon economy.
The centre will be led by Professor Mercedes Maroto-Valer, of the University’s School of Chemical and Environmental Engineering. But the research will be cross-disciplinary, bringing together engineers, mathematicians, bioscientists, geographers and geologists:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) will fund the centre over the next five years through its Challenging Engineering initiative.
We are excited about the prospects for CICCS to become a world leader in the field. We will continue to develop new processes that will make a significant impact in finding solutions for climate change and protecting the planet. We will present the research, training and outreach activities planned by CICCS at the launch event. The response to the centre has been outstanding so far. - Prof Maroto-Valer, Director of the Centre for Innovation in Carbon Capture and Storage
Dr Nick Palmer MP added: "I'm delighted to help launch the centre, as its technology may well be crucial to Britain's future. Britain has huge coal reserves, which could have a greatly enhanced future to guarantee our energy security if carbon capture technology were more advanced."

The official opening of the Centre for Innovation in Carbon Capture and Storage will took place yesterday at the University Park.

Schematic: different sources from which to capture CO2, including biomass, and pathways to sequester it. Credit: IPCC.


The University of Nottingham: Carbon research with global impact - February 6, 2008.

Biopact: Carbon-negative energy revolution a step closer: Carbon8 Systems to capture CO2 from biomass through carbonation - January 29, 2008

Biopact: Biochar and carbon-negative bioenergy: boosts crop yields, fights climate change and reduces deforestation - January 28, 2008

Biopact: Towards carbon-negative biofuels: US DOE awards $66.7 million for large-scale CO2 capture and storage from ethanol plant - December 19, 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: Biochar and carbon-negative bioenergy: boosts crop yields, fights climate change and reduces deforestation - January 28, 2008

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The bioeconomy at work: Metabolix to develop advanced industrial oilseed crops for bioplastics and biofuels

Metabolix, Inc., a bioscience company focused on developing clean, sustainable solutions for plastics, fuels, and chemicals, announced that it has initiated a program to develop an advanced industrial oilseed crop to produce bioplastics. Oilseeds are the primary feedstock for the more than 250 million gallons of biodiesel produced annually in the United States and the co-production of bioplastics promises to improve the economics of this crop industry.

As part of this initiative, Metabolix has established strategic research collaboration with noted oilseed experts at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, a leading not-for-profit research institute in St. Louis. Metabolix will assemble a team of scientists to establish a research and development presence in St. Louis. The team will work closely with Danforth's Principal Investigators Drs. Jan Jaworski, Edgar Cahoon and Joseph Jez. This collaboration is supported financially by a 2-year, $1.14 million grant from the Missouri Life Sciences Trust Fund to the Danforth Center.
The Danforth Center has extensive experience in oilseed technology. Combining their experience with Metabolix's patented technologies could expedite the commercialization of multiple products in oilseed crops. This technology is expected to play an important role in reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. This initiative aims to create another biobased route to economically produce bioplastics and biofuels in high yields directly in non food crops. - Dr. Oliver Peoples, co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Metabolix
Industrial oilseeds represent the third crop system to which Metabolix is applying its patented technology. The company is a leader in developing enhanced switchgrass, and is also developing sugarcane crops (previous post) to co-produce biobased and biodegradable plastic within the leaves and stems of these crops to more economically meet clean energy and bioplastic needs globally:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Scientists recently found that the production of green bulk chemicals (from which thousands of products can be made, amongts them bioplastics) from biomass, may be a very efficient and climate friendly way of using land - cleaner and more efficient in many cases that using that land to grow crops for liquid biofuels. Over the long term, such bio-based green chemicals made in biorefineries have the capacity to reduce carbon emissions by 1 billion tons (previous post).

Founded in 1992, Metabolix, Inc. is an innovation driven bioscience company focused on providing sustainable solutions for the world's needs for plastics, fuels and chemicals. The company is taking a systems approach, from gene to end product, integrating sophisticated biotechnology with advanced industrial practice. Metabolix is now developing and commercializing Mirel bioplastics, a sustainable and biodegradable alternative to petroleum based plastics. Mirel is suitable for injection molding, extrusion coating, cast film and sheet, blown film and thermoforming. Metabolix is also developing a proprietary platform technology for co-producing plastics, biofuels and chemical products in energy crops such as switchgrass, oilseeds and sugarcane.

Metabolix and Archer Daniels Midland Company are commercializing Mirel through a joint venture called Telles. The first commercial scale Mirel production plant is being constructed adjacent to ADM's wet corn mill in Clinton, Iowa. The plant is expected to begin operations in late 2008 and is designed to produce up to 110 million pounds of Mirel annually. Mirel will reduce reliance on petroleum and decrease environmental impacts relative to conventional petroleum based plastics.


Metabolix: Metabolix to Develop Advanced Industrial Oilseed Crops for Bioplastic and Biofuel Production - February 8, 2008

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

Biopact: Metabolix to develop bioplastics from sugarcane - May 09, 2007

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Friday, February 08, 2008

Biogas from vast amounts of food waste: new Food Bank/Industry partnership launched in Ontario

The Ontario Association of Food Banks (OAFB) and StormFisher Biogas, an Ontario-based renewable energy utility, have joined forces to launch Plan Zero, a province-wide social enterprise that will generate renewable electricity from food industry surplus and by-products that are destined for landfills.

Plan Zero will work with food industry producers, growers and manufacturers to direct organic by-products to StormFisher's biogas production facilities - called anaerobic digesters - which accelerate the decomposition of organic matter to create biogas for use in producing electricity, renewable natural gas and heat. Plan Zero will direct a portion of the proceeds from the sale of energy to Ontario's electricity grid to the OAFB.

StormFisher's anaerobic digesters can produce energy using a wide range of organic materials, from used cooking oils to cow manure. The company also formed relationships with farms, food processing facilities, universities and technology providers. Its first three biogas facilities are currently in early development in London, Drayton and Port Colborne (Ontario) and will be operational by 2009.
Today, millions of tonnes of organic by-products generated in Ontario go to landfills unnecessarily. Plan Zero will help food manufacturers improve their environmental efforts and bottom line while supporting food banks in their work to relieve hunger across Ontario. - Ryan Little, Vice President of Business Development, StormFisher Biogas
Plan Zero also provides a way for food industry producers, growers and manufacturers to direct surplus food products to the provincial food bank network. This surplus product will be distributed to food banks in over 100 communities throughout Ontario. Under Plan Zero, StormFisher and the OAFB will secure long-term agreements with food industry producers, growers and manufacturers that are looking for an environmental and economically beneficial alternative for disposing of their organic by-products:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::
Plan Zero represents a powerful social enterprise initiative for the food industry as a single gateway for their surplus food and by-products. But this is not just a smart business decision. As a social enterprise, Plan Zero is also a meaningful way for businesses to fight climate change and hunger at the same time. - Adam Spence, Executive Director of the OAFB
Generating electricity from biogas involves capturing the gas produced by the decomposition of organic matter such as food by-products in anaerobic digesters - large holding tanks deprived of oxygen. The decomposition creates a mix of methane and carbon dioxide ("biogas") with the methane subsequently captured and burned to power an electricity generator. The energy created by the generator can then be fed directly into the electrical grid and sold to the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) to supply the province's electricity demand.

As a company that works both with the OAFB and StormFisher, we know the value of putting food that won't be sold to a good use. This is a program that just makes sense. - Chris Swartz, Director of Warehousing, Gordon Food Service Canada

StormFisher has announced agreements to create renewable electricity in partnership with a number of food processing companies in Ontario. One such partnership, with Inniskillin Wines, will create renewable electricity from the winery's grape by-products. About 1,000 to 2,000 tonnes of winery by-products previously destined to a landfill will be given a new use as a fuel. Methane gas produced by the decomposition of grape pomace will be captured and used to generate power for homes in the Niagara region.

StormFischer Biogas: New Food Bank/Industry Partnership to Market Renewable Energy From Food Industry By-Products - January 31, 2008.

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DOE JGI releases new version of metagenome data management & analysis system

Targeting its ever-expanding user community, the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI) has released an upgraded version of the IMG/M metagenome data management and analysis system, accessible to the public here. The JGI is a key international research effort analysing genomes from organisms for use in the production of next-generation bioenergy and biofuels.

IMG/M provides tools for analyzing the functional capability of microbial communities based on their metagenome DNA sequence in the context of reference isolate genomes. The new version of IMG/M includes five additional metagenome datasets generated from microbial community samples that were the subject of recently published studies. These include the metagenomic and functional analysis of termite hindgut microbiota (Nature 450, 560-565, 22 November 2007 - previous post) and the single cell genetic analysis of TM7, a rare and uncultivated microbe from the human mouth (PNAS, July 17, 2007, vol. 104, no. 29, 11889-11894).

"IMG/M is a fantastic tool that is incredibly helpful in understanding our data," said Stephen Quake, Co-Chair, Department of Bioengineering at Stanford University, Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and senior author on the PNAS study. "We used IMG/M in numerous ways, both to analyze our data and to understand general properties of other relevant bacterial genomes. I look forward to analyzing our new datasets with IMG/M."

IMG/M will be demonstrated at a workshop on March 26 as part of the DOE JGI Third Annual User Meeting. IMG/M contains all isolate genomes in version 2.4 of DOE JGI’s Integrated Microbial Genomes (IMG) system, which represents an increase of 1,339 reference genomes from the previous version of IMG/M. Now, IMG/M contains 2,953 isolate genomes consisting of 819 bacterial, 50 archaeal, 40 eukaryotic genomes, and 2,044 viruses.

IMG/M provides new tools for analyzing metagenome datasets in the context of reference isolate genomes, such as the Reference Genome Context Viewer and Protein Recruitment Plot that allow the examination of metagenomes in the context of individual reference isolate genomes. New Abundance Comparison and Functional Category Comparison tools enable pairwise function analysis (COG, Pfam, Enzyme, TIGRfam) and functional category (e.g., COG category) abundance comparisons, respectively, between a metagenome dataset and one or several reference metagenomes or genomes, and test whether the differences in abundance are statistically significant:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

IMG/M has been developed jointly by the DOE JGI’s Genome Biology Program (GBP) and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) Biological Data Management and Technology Center (BDMTC). The large-scale pairwise gene similarity computations for all the genomes included in IMG/M have been carried out using ScalaBLAST by the Computational Biology and Bioinformatics Group of the Computational Sciences and Mathematics Division at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, using the William R. Wiley Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL) Molecular Sciences Computing Facility supercomputer.

The U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute, supported by the DOE Office of Science, unites the expertise of five national laboratories - Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, and Pacific Northwest - along with the Stanford Human Genome Center to advance genomics in support of the DOE missions related to clean energy generation and environmental characterization and cleanup. DOE JGI’s Walnut Creek, CA, Production Genomics Facility provides integrated high-throughput sequencing and computational analysis that enable systems-based scientific approaches to these challenges.

U.S. Department of Energy, Joint Genome Institute: DOE JGI Releases a New Version of its Metagenome Data Management & Analysis System - February 7, 2007.

Biopact: Scientists sequence and analyse genomes of termite gut microbes to yield novel enzymes for cellulosic biofuel production - November 22, 2007

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New land use techniques boost benefits of biofuels

Several recent studies about the carbon balance of first-generation biofuels, including two analyses published in Science, are based on assessments of current land use practises. These studies are important, but the conclusions drawn from them are often seriously flawed. Moreover, if these conclusions are placed in a neo-malthusian perspective on population and natural resources, they cannot be taken seriously at all because there is no credible basis for neo-malthusianism in the first place.

Let us first note that only a fraction of the current biofuels are produced from crops grown on cleared high carbon land like forests. The vast majority is based on low carbon land, so we are only looking at exceptions here. Scientists analysing the long term potential of explicitly sustainable biofuels have clearly outlined how much low carbon land is available on a global scale, and it is estimated to be more than 1 billion hectares - that is: non-forest land available after all food, fiber and feed needs for growing populations have been met (more here). In short, technically speaking, the planet can relatively easily sustain the production of both food and fuels for a growing population, sustainably.

That said, let's look at the current land use practises analysed in the studies. These practises involve the conversion of 'pristine' systems like forests, woodlands or grasslands, to make way for monocultures of energy crops . Under these practises, the biomass that is cleared is often burned, resulting in large carbon emissions. Biofuels made from low yielding crops grown on this land thus have a large 'carbon debt'. It can take years or decades before biofuels have repaid their debt and begin to reduce emissions (by replacing fossil fuels).

But all these analyses are based on existing, primitive land use practises and on first-generation, inefficient biofuels made from crops like corn or soybeans. They do not take into account new energy crops (e.g. crops that yield far more biomass and are engineered to store far more CO2 than ordinary crops), the use of plantation residues, new bioconversion technologies, and the radical option of capturing and storing carbon from bioenergy production.

Those who use current studies about the carbon balance of today's incredibly inefficient biofuels to conclude that all biofuels are incapable of reducing emissions are making a grave mistake. In fact, new and future land use practises by themselves change the picture entirely, and make biofuels and bioenergy the most radical tool in the fight against climate change. Add new crops and new conversion techniques, and it will be clear that biofuels present major benefits.

New land use practises
Let's explore these new concepts - they are based on developments that are already taking place. The schematic above outlines them in brief.

First of all, a major leap forward towards making biofuels carbon neutral from the very start - cancelling the carbon debt at once - is very simple. It consists of using the original biomass (e.g. woodland or forest) as a bioenergy feedstock. When clearing a forest, it is foolish to burn the wood which is the current practise, because this biomass is itself a highly valuable energy source. Instead of wasting the energy by burning the wood, it will be used as a biofuel feedstock.

Decentralised biofuel production plants that can be located close to the land to be cleared are already here. These plants draw on a process called fast-pyrolysis. It transforms any type of biomass into bio-oil, which can be further upgraded into transport fuels or used in power plants.

Using the biomass of the land clearance as a biofuel feedstock immediately pays back the bulk of the carbon debt that would have resulted from burning this biomass without using the energy contained in it. The only carbon debt left is that resulting from changes in the below-ground biomass, but in most cases this can be offset quite quickly (e.g. when a perennial grassland is replaced by polycultures of perennial energy grasses). Of course, this new land use technique requires the creation of infrastructures (such as roads), but these are likely to benefit local communities greatly.

Virtually no study looks at this simple step. It is however already being implemented. An example comes from old palm oil plantations that are being replaced by new ones. The old biomass stock - entire trees - is being converted into biofuels that replace fossil fuels. A Canadian bioenergy company (Buchanan Renewable Energies) is doing this in Liberia, where it is paying to use old palm forests' biomass as a feedstock for the production of pyrolysis oil. After this first transformation, the cleared land will be used for a new plantation. Fuels from this new plantation have no 'carbon debt'. This concept can (and should) be applied to all new biofuel ventures that convert undisturbed grasslands, wood lands or forests into energy crop plantations.

Carbon negative

This new land use practise is however only a first step towards far more interesting bioenergy concepts. In the future, original biomass will not only be converted into bioenergy or biofuels, but the fuel production process itself will be coupled to carbon sequestration techniques. These come in two forms: either geosequestration (storing CO2 in geological formations) or biochar systems (storing carbon in soils via charcoal or pyrolysis char).

The process works as follows: original biomass (e.g. a woodland) is used for the production of a biofuel such as pyrolysis oil. The local plant may itself already capture and store its own CO2 emissions (a first example of CCS coupled to biofuel production comes from the U.S. where the Midwest Geological Sequestration Consortium recently received $66 million to sequester CO2 from a biofuel plant - more here). The fuel is then sent to a facility where it is used for the production of either electricity and heat, a fully decarbonized biofuel (such as biohydrogen) or a low-carbon biofuel. At this facility, the CO2 is again captured and stored, before the decarbonized form of energy is used by the consumer. The end result is carbon-negative energy that yields negative emissions:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Such carbon-negative fuels and energy is a radical tool in the climate fight. Unlike any other type of renewable energy, it actually removes CO2 from the past from the atmosphere.

Scientists working for the Abrupt Climate Change Strategy group, a think tank with a mandate from the G8 to study options for us to survive abrupt climatic change, calculated that if such systems were implemented on a global scale, we can bring atmospheric CO2 levels back to pre-industrial levels by mid-century (more here).

Besides the option of capturing and storing CO2 from bioenergy and biofuels, a whole series of new developments in all biofuel production steps have to be taken into account.

New crops, new bioconversion techniques

New land use practises were already discussed. Now let's look at developments in the field of energy crops, bioconversion, agronomy and the use of residues. Current biofuel crops like corn or soybeans are truly inefficient because biofuels made from them only utilize a fraction of the biomass grown, that is, easily extractible starch or oil. These first-generation biofuels have no future and are no longer of interest to the bioenergy community.

A large number of plant biologists and bio-engineers has already developed new crops that either yield far more biomass (which immediately clears much of the carbon debt), or that store far more CO2 than ordinary crops, or that contain in them codes for easy bioconversion. We will limit the discussion to a few examples of such crops: high-biomass sorghum (more here), eucalyptus trees with higher carbon storage capacity (here, and another similar crop - a hybrid larch with enhanced CO2 sequestering capacity, here), maize that contains its own bioconversion enzymes (previous post) and low lignin sorghums that can be turned much easier into fuels (here).

Secondly, an enormous number of efficiency leaps in biofuel production processes has emerged over the past years. This process is ongoing. Almost every day Biopact reports about them. Yesterday, scientists reported they have developed a new nano-engineered molecular sieve that dehydrates biofuels much more efficiently - which means less energy is needed, thus lowering the emissions from the production process (more here). Also yesterday, ZeaChem announced it succeeded in improving ethanol yields from wood via a hybrid conversion process based on thermochemical and biochemical transformation into hydrogen (used to power the process) and acetic acid, which is consequently turned into liquid fuel in a highly efficient manner. The yield increase: 50% (earlier post).

This type of evolutions occurs virtually every day and is tilting biofuel production to ever higher efficiency and lower emissions. Sadly, it takes a while before environmentalists, conservationists or researchers become aware of them and take them up in their analyses.

Third, mere agronomic interventions succeed in improving the carbon and energy balance of biofuels. One of the studies recently published in Science gives the example of growing polycultures of native prairie grasses - these polycultures actually store large amounts of carbon in soils, and by themselves become a strong carbon sink. Using the grasses as a bioenergy feedstock results in carbon negative fuels, merely as a result of good agronomic practises and because of the nature of these grasses (previous post). The original researcher who conducted this line of studies, David Tilman, was a co-author of one of the Science papers published today.

Finally, an area in which huge potential can be found is in the utilization of plantation and processing residues from existing agricultural operations and biofuel operations. Recently, we referred to the potential for the production of biohydrogen from palm oil residues. A palm plantation yields farm more biomass than is currently used in the form of oil. If these vast amounts of residues are used productively instead of burned or dumped as waste, the carbon balance of biofuels from the oil is seriously improved (previous post). There is similar potential is virtually all agricultural operations today. The same process can be applied in biofuel operations, where residues and byproducts (such as glycerine in biodiesel) is used as a feedstock for a myriad of green products that replace oil, coal and gas.

In short, we agree with the growing body of researchers who point to the many potential drawbacks of primitive, first-generation biofuels. Biopact has long ago distanced itself from these fuels (an exeption would be fuels like current sugarcane based ethanol in Brazil). We think much more care must be taken to assess the full lifecycle carbon emissions from biofuels, as well as indirect emissions that occur elsewhere on the planet because of the massive use of particular crops in one place (e.g. corn in the U.S. driving the expansion of soy in the Amazon).

But all this should not negate the fact that there is a range of bioenergy and biofuel production concepts that offers major benefits. Neither should the studies based on current inefficient biofuels halt the exploration and development of new crops and bioconversion technologies. The challenges presented by climate change and growing energy insecurity are too important and require continued investments in new technologies.


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: Biochar and carbon-negative bioenergy: boosts crop yields, fights climate change and reduces deforestation - January 28, 2008

References to new crops, bioconversion methods and agronomic advancements can be found throughout Biopact's archive. References mentioned in this article are:

Biopact: Scientists develop low-lignin eucalyptus trees that store more CO2, provide more cellulose for biofuels - September 17, 2007

Biopact: Japanese scientists develop hybrid larch trees with 30% greater carbon sink capacity - October 03, 2007

Biopact: Third generation biofuels: scientists patent corn variety with embedded cellulase enzymes - May 05, 2007

Biopact: Carbon negative biofuels: from monocultures to polycultures - December 08, 2006

Biopact: Tallgrass Prairie Center to implement Tilman's mixed grass findings - September 02, 2007

Biopact: Sun Grant Initiative funds 17 bioenergy research projects - [on high-biomass sorghum] August 20, 2007

Biopact: Ceres and TAES team up to develop high-biomass sorghum for next-generation biofuels - October 01, 2007

Biopact: Scientists release new low-lignin sorghums: ideal for biofuel and feed - September 10, 2007

Biopact: Major breakthrough: researchers engineer sorghum that beats aluminum toxicity - August 27, 2007

Biopact: U.S. scientists develop drought tolerant sorghum for biofuels - May 21, 2007

Biopact: Sweet super sorghum - yield data for the ICRISAT hybrid - February 21, 2007

Biopact: Mapping sorghum's genome to create robust biomass crops - June 24, 2007

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Two studies state the obvious: clearing high carbon land for first-generation biofuels can lead to higher emissions

Two interesting studies published in Science state the obvious again: clearing undisturbed forests or grasslands without using their biomass, to plant low yielding first generation biofuel crops like corn or soybeans on them, increases carbon emissions. A tropical forest stores a lot of carbon, and burning this to make way for oil palms yields large emissions. It can take decades before the biofuel actually makes up for this 'carbon debt'. So far, nothing new.

The problem with the studies is that they stick to old and current practise, and do not look at the concept of utilizing the biomass from the land that is to be cleared, in a productive way as a bioenergy feedstock. This immediately clears much of a biofuel's carbon debt. But then, this practise is not yet used on a large scale, which is why the authors do not mention it (or are not aware of it). Moreover, the studies do not take into account future concepts like carbon-negative bioenergy, which is a system that takes historic CO2 emissions out of the atmosphere by coupling biofuel production to carbon capture and storage (BECS systems) or to biochar (the sequestration of carbon into soils via char).

In short, the studies are important, because they indicate that current agricultural practises used for first-generation biofuels are not sustainable. Instead, the analyses make a strong case for bio-energy with carbon storage (biochar and CCS), for the utilization of pristine biomass as a biofuel feedstock, and for a rapid transition to crops that store more carbon than the biomass that used to grow on the cleared land. They also indicate a clear need for land-use change analyses and research into 'indirect emissions' that must be taken into account when calculating the emissions balance of biofuels.

Analyzing the lifecycle emissions from biofuels, the first study by private conservation group The Nature Conservancy, found that carbon released by converting high-carbon lands such as rainforests, peatlands, savannas, or grasslands often far outweighs the carbon savings from biofuels. Conversion of peatland rainforests for oil palm plantations for example, incurs a "carbon debt" of 423 years in Indonesia and Malaysia, while the carbon emission from clearing Amazon rainforest for soybeans takes 319 years of renewable soy biodiesel before the land can begin to lower greenhouse gas levels and mitigate global warming (see graph).

An author and researcher from The Nature Conservancy comments [note the flawed argument about not utilizing the biomass from the cleared land]:
These natural areas store a lot of carbon, so converting them to croplands results in tons of carbon emitted into the atmosphere. We analyzed all the benefits of using biofuels as alternatives to oil, but we found that the benefits fall far short of the carbon losses. It's what we call 'the carbon debt.' If you're trying to mitigate global warming, it simply does not make sense to convert land for biofuels production. All the biofuels we use now cause habitat destruction, either directly or indirectly. Global agriculture is already producing food for six billion people. Producing food-based biofuel, too, will require that still more land be converted to agriculture. - Joe Fargione, The Nature Conservancy
Indirect emissions
While a number of studies have shown that conversion of particular tropical ecosystems, including peat swamps in Southeast Asia and rainforests in South America, for energy crops result in net emissions, the second study shows that when assessed at a global level, U.S. corn ethanol is also a major CO2 source — not a CO2 sink as usually claimed by the farm industry.
Using a worldwide agricultural model to estimate emissions from land use change, we found that corn-based ethanol, instead of producing a 20% savings, nearly doubles greenhouse emissions over 30 years and increases greenhouse gasses for 167 years. - Timothy Searchinger, et. al.
Their assessment is based on the additional land that needs to be converted abroad as a result of increased corn acreage planted for ethanol production in the United States. These are 'indirect' land-use changes occuring from biofuels production elsewhere:
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"To produce biofuels, farmers can directly plow up more forest or grassland, which releases to the atmosphere much of the carbon previously stored in plants and soils through decomposition or fire," write the authors. "The loss of maturing forests and grasslands also forgoes ongoing carbon sequestration as plants grow each year, and this foregone sequestration is the equivalent of additional emissions. Alternatively, farmers can divert existing crops or croplands into biofuels, which causes similar emissions indirectly. The diversion triggers higher crop prices, and farmers around the world respond by clearing more forest and grassland to replace crops for feed and food. Studies have confirmed that higher soybean prices accelerate clearing of Brazilian rainforest."

In particular, the authors — including researchers from Princeton University, Agricultural Conservation Economics, the Woods Hole Research Center, and Iowa State University — say that U.S. corn ethanol production is having a global effect. As U.S. corn exports declined sharply, production picks up in other countries where yields are lower, requiring conversion of more land for production, and driving global grain prices even higher.

The researchers say the current system has misplaced incentives: farmers are rewarded for the amount of biofuel produced while the resulting carbon emissions are ignored.

"We don't have proper incentives in place because landowners are rewarded for producing palm oil and other products but not rewarded for carbon management," said University of Minnesota Applied Economics professor Stephen Polasky, a co-author of the study. "This creates incentives for excessive land clearing and can result in large increases in carbon emissions. Creating some sort of incentive for carbon sequestration, or penalty for carbon emissions, from land use is vital if we are serious about addressing this problem."

Biofuels that work
Still the authors say that some biofuels do not contribute carbon emissions to the atmosphere because they do not require clearing of native vegetation. These include fuels produced from agricultural waste, weedy grasses, and woody biomass grown on lands unsuitable for conventional crops.

"Biofuels made on perennial crops grown on degraded land that is no longer useful for growing food crops may actually help us fight global warming," said University of Minnesota researcher Jason Hill, a co-author. "One example is ethanol made from diverse mixtures of native prairie plants. Minnesota is well poised in this respect."

The researches recommend that the full environmental impact of biofuel production be evaluated when making decisions on energy sources.

"In finding solutions to climate change, we must ensure that the cure is not worse than the disease," noted Jimmie Powell, who leads the energy team at The Nature Conservancy. "We cannot afford to ignore the consequences of converting land for biofuels. Doing so means we might unintentionally promote fuel alternatives that are worse than fossil fuels they are designed to replace. These findings should be incorporated into carbon emissions policy going forward."

"We will need to implement many approaches simultaneously to solve climate change. There is no silver bullet, but there are many silver BBs," said Fargione. "Some biofuels may be one silver BB, but only if produced without requiring additional land to be converted from native habitats to agriculture."

Fargione, J. el al (2008). "Land Clearing and the Biofuel Carbon Debt." Science, February 7, 2008, DOI: 10.1126/science.1152747

Searchinger, T. el al (2008). "Use of U.S. Croplands For Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gasses Through Emissions From Land Use Change." Science, February 7, 2008, DOI: 10.1126/science.1151861

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Ceres to supply energy crop seeds to experimental biorefinery: high-biomass sorghum, switchgrass

Energy crop company Ceres, Inc. announces that it will sow thousands of acres of switchgrass, high-biomass sorghum and other energy crops over the next three years near St. Joseph, Missouri to support a next-generation biorefinery being engineered by ICM, Inc., a leading biofuel process technology provider. The demonstration-scale project, which includes participation from academic institutions, government and other technology providers, will produce fuel, known as cellulosic biofuel, from biomass rather than corn. Last week, Department of Energy officials announced up to $30 million in supplemental funding for the planned facility (previous post).

Ceres' primary role will be to supply seed of specially developed energy crop cultivars to nearby farmers, who will grow the plants and harvest the biomass. The company will also provide agronomic recommendations to the overall venture, which will compare numerous raw materials, including Ceres' dedicated energy crops, for their conversion efficiency and fuel yields, as well as their economic viability.

Ceres says higher crop yields and optimized biomass composition can have a dramatic impact on reducing cellulosic biofuel production costs.
This project will be an important proving ground for new technologies, both in the field and at the biorefinery. Ceres will help determine the best mix of crops, the right traits and cultivars, as well as the agronomic practices that maximize biomass yields and conversion efficiency of the biomass to biofuel. - Richard Hamilton, Ceres chief executive
According to Hamilton, the learnings from this small-scale project will have far-reaching impact, allowing participating companies to optimize the biofuel production and delivery chain from seed to pump. He expects energy crop acreage across the U.S. to increase rapidly as best practices are duplicated in other areas.
Once we get crops in the field and biomass moving through a refinery, the industry will start bringing down costs, and ramping up production. Getting there will require the application of new technologies, such as biotechnology, both in the field and at the biorefinery. - Richard Hamilton
Energy crop and agronomic improvements are also expected to result in higher net energy benefits, as well as reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, switchgrass-to-ethanol produces about five times more energy than needed to grow, harvest and process it, and results in 90% less greenhouse gas emissions than petroleum:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The new Energy Act recently signed by President Bush calls for a minimum of 16 billion gallons of advanced biofuels per year from biomass. Dedicated energy crops converted in next generation biorefineries under development are expected to meet this target.

Ceres, Inc. is a leading developer of high-yielding, dedicated energy crops that can be planted as feedstocks for cellulosic ethanol production. Its development efforts cover switchgrass, sorghum, miscanthus, energycane and woody crops.

ICM engineers, builds and supports the industry's leading ethanol plants. Founded in 1995 and headquartered in a small agricultural community just outside of Wichita, KS, ICM also serves as a leading ethanol industry advocate.

Picture: Ceres' seed bank of tens of thousands of experimental plants, including improved energy crops. Credit: Ceres.

Ceres: Ceres to Supply Energy Crops to Next-Generation Biorefinery - February 7, 2008.

Biopact: U.S. DOE invests $114 million in four small-scale biorefineries for next generation biofuels - January 30, 2008

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Researchers develop highly efficient hybrid nanoporous membrane to dehydrate biofuels; could replace distillation process

Scientists of the University of Twente in The Netherlands have developed a new hybrid organic–inorganic nanoporous membrane with unprecedented hydrothermal stability, enabling long-term application in energy-efficient molecular separation, including dehydration up to at least 150°C. The ‘molecular sieve’ is capable of removing water out of solvents and biofuels and is a very energy efficient alternative to existing techniques like distillation. The scientists, who cooperated with colleagues from the Energy research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN) and the University of Amsterdam, present their invention as an open access article in this week's Chemical Communications of the UK's Royal Society of Chemistry.
Devising more efficient processes to reduce energy consumption is one of the prime challenges of the 21st century. A promising strategy is to apply nanostructured membranes to sieve mixtures of molecules of different sizes. Membranes can be applied in energy-efficient separation of biomass fuel and hydrogen, dehydration of condensation reactions, and breaking of azeotropic mixtures during distillation. - Hessel Castricum, lead author
After testing during 18 months, the new 100 nanometer thick membranes, embedded in a cylinder (schematic, click to enlarge), prove to be highly effective, while having continuously been exposed to a temperature of 150 ºC. Existing ceramic and polymer membranes will last considerably shorter periods of time, when exposed to the combination of water and high temperatures. The scientists managed to do this using a new ‘hybrid’ type of material combining the best of both worlds of polymer and ceramic membranes. The result is a membrane with pores sufficiently small to let only the smallest molecules pass through.
We have designed a new nanoporous hybrid material with high hydrothermal stability. It combines high selectivity and permeability when applied in a molecular separation membrane. By incorporating organic Si–CxHy–Si links into an inorganic network, we have complemented the high thermal and solvent stability of Si–O–Si bonds with a high hydrothermal stability. We expect that this finding will have a considerable impact on separation technology as it can effect practical application with greatly reduced energy consumption. - Hessel Castricum
Ceramic membranes, made of silica, degrade because they react with water and steam. In the new membrane, part of the ceramic links is therefore replaced by organic links. By doing this, water doesn’t have the chance to ‘attack’ the membranes. Manufacturing the new hybrid membranes is simpler than that of ceramic membranes, because the material is flexible and will not show cracks. What they have in common with ceramic membranes is the rapid flow: an advantage of this is that the membrane surface can be kept small:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The hybrid membranes are suitable for ‘drying’ solvents and biofuels, an application for which there is a large potential market worldwide. The main advantage of membrane technology is that it consumes far less energy than common distillation techniques. The scientists also foresee opportunities in separating hydrogen gas from gas mixtures. This implies a broad range of applications in sustainable energy. Apart from that, the hybrid membranes are suitable for desalinating water. Using a hybrid membrane that is much smaller than the current polymer membranes, the same result can be achieved

The results have been achieved in a close cooperation of scientists from the Inorganic Materials Science Group of the MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology (UT), the Energy Efficiency in Industry department of ECN and the University of Amsterdam. The invention has been patented worldwide.

Schematic: the cylinder is the carrier of a hybrid membrane: a layer of about 100 nanometer thickness. The insert shows a close-up of the layer showing the organic links and pores. From the left of the tube, only water molecules leave the sieve. Credit: University of Twente.

Hessel Castricum, Ashima Sah, Robert Kreiter, Dave Blank, Jaap Vente and André ten Elshof, "‘Hybrid ceramic nanosieves: stabilizing nanopores with organic links", Chemical Communications, 2008, DOI: 10.1039/b718082a

University of Twente: Nanosieve saves energy in biofuel production - February 7, 2008.

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Researchers: hybrid vehicles slow transition to more sustainable cars

Hybrid electric vehicles that run on both conventional gasoline and stored electricity can be no more than a stop gap until more sustainable technology is developed, according to researchers in France. Writing in the Inderscience publication International Journal of Automotive Technology and Management, they suggest that the adoption of HEVs might even slow development of more sustainable fuel-cell powered electric vehicles that utilize (bio)hydrogen as their fuel.

No matter which type of vehicle might be most sustainable in the future - pure electric or hydrogen powered -, one thing is certain: in both cases biomass remains a very good candidate to generate the energy needed for transportation in an affordable, clean and efficient manner - be it H2 or electricity (see below). Biomass energy can even yield radical "negative emissions" when it is coupled to carbon capture and storage, and thus actively remove CO2 from the past from the atmosphere - something only biomass is capable of.

Jean-Jacques Chanaron, Research Director within the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and Chief Scientific Advisor at the Grenoble School of Management and Julius Teske at Grenoble, question strongly whether the current acceptance of hybrid vehicle technology particularly in the USA is in any way environmentally sustainable.

The researchers have analyzed the spread of this technology including the non-financial drivers for its adoption. They point out that most manufacturers are rapidly integrating hybrid electric vehicles into their technology portfolio, despite the absence of significant profitability.

They add that the misinformed craze for hybrid vehicles especially in the USA, and increasingly in Japan and Europe, and potentially in China, could represent a red light for more innovative technologies, such as viable fuel-cell cars that can use sustainably sourced fuels, such as hydrogen. They concur with earlier studies that suggest that hydrogen fuel cells will not be marketable in high volumes before at least 2025. This could, however, be too late for some models of climate change and emissions reduction. They also point out that even fuel cell technology has its drawbacks and much of the marketing surrounding its potential has emerged only from the hydrogen lobby itself.
There is a general convergence of strategies towards promoting hybrid vehicles as the mid-term solution to very low-emission and high-mileage vehicles. This is largely due to Toyota's strategy of learning the technology, while building up its own "quasi-standard", thanks to its high-quality and reliability reputation and its high market share on the North American market. - Jean-Jacques Chanaron & Julius Teske
But they say that such a convergence is based more on customer perception triggered by very clever marketing and communication campaigns than on pure rational scientific arguments and may result in the need for any manufacturer operating in the USA to have a hybrid electric vehicle in its model range in order to survive.

Moreover, political pressures also play a significant part. The three major US manufacturers - GM, Ford, and Chrysler - recently urged President Bush to financially and politically support a national technological solution for hybrids; this was independent of the currently dominant solutions initiated by Toyota. The researchers concede that "the quest for low emission, clean, and high-mileage vehicles is on its way and should be at the top of the manufacturers' agenda". However, they suggest that the technology, marketing, and public perception leads to one overriding problem: is a hybrid strategy sustainable in the long run? Chanaron and Teske think not:

:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The complexity and high cost of the hybrid technology is also playing against itself, they say: "There is a huge strategic dilemma for the key players of the automotive industry where a mistake in technology decision-making might turn even a big player into a take-over candidate. The next five years will provide industry observers with more accurate trends and success or failure factors."

Biopact notes that no matter which vehicle technology is most sustainable over the long run, bioenergy is in all cases the most economically viable, and in many cases the most environmentally friendly way to produce automotive energy.

When hydrogen is chosen as the fuel for fuel cell cars, the cleanest, most efficient and most affordable way to produce the gas is by converting biomass through gasification. This is the conclusion of a very large EU-funded well-to-wheel study of over 70 different propulsion technologies and energy pathways for the future. Of more than 30 different H2 production pathways - from electrolysis on the the basis of nuclear or wind power to steam reforming of natural gas - biohydrogen used in fuel cells and made from the gasification of biomass, is the cleanest and gives most mileage per amount of energy invested (previous post; graph, click to enlarge).

When pure electric cars are to be the future, then again bio-electricity is the clear winner amongst all sources of energy, over the medium to long term. According to the recent EU Strategic Energy Technology Plan, biomass based electricity is expected to become the cheapest form of electricity - even beating coal (previous post; table, click to enlarge).

Moreover, both biomass and biohydrogen production allow for the implementation of radical carbon-negative energy concepts. Bio-electricity and biohydrogen can be completely decarbonised by coupling their production to carbon capture and storage (CCS). When this is done, an energy carrier yielding "negative emissions" is obtained. Only fuels and energy carriers made from biomass can become carbon-negative, all other renewables remain fundamentally carbon positive.

The difference is staggering: over their lifecycle, renewables like wind or solar contribute between +30 and +100 gCO2eq per kWh of electricity. Bioenergy coupled to CCS yields up to -1000 gCO2 per kWh (that is: minus, "negative" emissions).

The bizarre aspect of such radical forms of carbon-negative bioenergy is that the more you use of it (in this case in your electric or hydrogen car), the more CO2 you take out of the atmosphere. The more you drive, the more you save the planet (previous post). Clearly, when it comes to mitigating climate change, carbon-negative biomass based transportation energy is the way forward.

The only issue with biomass is the fact that it is such a versatile primary energy resource. It can be transformed into a large range of products - from bioproducts and green platform chemicals to liquid, gaseous or solid biofuels - and used in a variety of applications - from producing heat to acting as a carbon sink - that it remains to be seen which utilization pathway is most efficient. Transforming biomass into an energy carrier for future cars might not be the most optimal use, because other services and products might be more cost-effective, better at mitigating climate change, or more energy efficient.

Jean-Jacques Chanaron and Julius Teske, "Hybrid vehicles: a temporary step", International Journal of Automotive Technology and Management, 2007 - Vol. 7, No.4 pp. 268 - 288, DOI: 10.1504/IJATM.2007.017061

Eurekalert: The trouble with hybrids - Hybrid electric vehicles not as green as they are painted - February 7, 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: Commission presents European Strategic Energy Technology Plan: towards a low carbon future - November 23, 2007

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

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BC Hydro issues Bioenergy Call for Power to advance renewable electricity production

BC Hydro, British Columbia's main hydropower utility and one of Canada's largest electricity producers, has released the first phase of its two-phase Bioenergy Call for Power with a request for proposals that will utilize forest-based biomass, including sawmill residues, logging debris and other residual wood for power production. The call comes a week after British Columbia launched a highly ambitious Bioenergy Strategy that aims to make the province electricity self-sufficient with biomass (previous post).
The Bioenergy Call will help B.C. achieve its target for zero net greenhouse gas emissions, strengthen our long-term competitiveness and diversify rural economies. - Richard Neufeld, Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources.
The Bioenergy Call will consist of two phases: the first phase will be a competitive request for proposals open to projects that are immediately viable and do not need new tenure from the Ministry of Forests and Range, with a goal of having electricity purchase agreements signed by fall of 2008.

The second phase will be launched by July 2008, after the ongoing biomass inventory and forest tenure analysis is completed by the Ministry of Forests and Range.

This first phase will promote investment in new technology and take advantage of underutilized wood residue, said Rich Coleman, Minister of Forests and Range. Under this phase, BC Hydro targets approximately 1,000 GWh/year of firm energy to be procured.

For phase I, BC Hydro will consider projects that meet the following eligibility requirements [*.pdf]:
  • Fuel Type: Forest-based Biomass, including mill solid wood residues (hog fuel, sawdust, chips and/or chunks), pulp mill residues (hog fuel and black liquor), roadside and landing residues, and biomass derived from standing timber, without access to new timber harvesting tenure.
  • Location: Projects to be located in British Columbia, excluding Fort Nelson and other areas of the Province from which BC Hydro would be required to transmit energy through another out-of-province jurisdiction to the Lower Mainland.
  • Technology: Projects must use “proven” generation technologies. Nuclear technology is not eligible. “Proven” technologies are generation technologies, which are readily available in commercial markets and in commercial use (not demonstration use only), as evidenced by at least three generation plants (which need not be owned or operated by the Proponent) generating electrical energy for a period of not less than three years, to a standard of reliability generally required by good utility practice and the terms of the EPA.
  • Clean: Entire output from the Project must qualify as “clean energy” in accordance with guidelines to be published by the British Columbia Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources
The Bioenergy Call for Power is a key component of the provincial government's Bioenergy Strategy, released last week, and the BC Energy Plan. It is intended to help address the effects of the catastrophic mountain pine beetle infestation, while at the same time developing new sources of clean energy from biomass:
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The mountain pine beetle infestation has disastrous effects on British Columbia's forests. At the current rate of spread, 50 per cent of the mature pine will be dead by 2008 and 80 per cent by 2013. The consequences of the epidemic will be felt for decades (map: extent of the epidemic in 2006, click to enlarge). The dead trees will now be used for bioenergy and harvesting will help fight the spread of the infestation. Other abundant biomass resources from BC's large forestry sector will be utilized as well.
Bioenergy is an innovative new source of power that is also clean, and this Call for Power will help BC Hydro meet the province's growing electricity needs. - Bob Elton, BC Hydro President and CEO.
British Columbia's Bioenergy Strategy aims to make the province entirely electricity self-sufficient by 2016 by relying on biomass. The emphasis on bioenergy will also lead to meeting the target of achieving zero new emissions from energy generation projects. Moreover, bioenergy and biofuels are to make up 50 per cent of all renewable fuels in the province by 2020.

The plan covers investments over the coming decennium into the broadest range of bioenergy sectors: bio-electricity, bioproducts, organic waste-to-energy, next-generation liquid biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol and gasification based biofuels, biohydrogen and biogas.

According to the government, the Bioenergy Strategy will create new opportunities for rural communities; spur new investment and innovation; help British Columbia reach the goal of achieving full energy security, and help it fight climate change in a drastic way.

BC Hydro is one of the largest electric utilities in Canada, serving more than 1.7 million customers in an area containing over 94 per cent of British Columbia's population. As a provincial Crown corporation, BC Hydro reports to the Minister of Energy and Mines, and is regulated by the British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC). BC Hydro operates 30 hydroelectric facilities and three natural gas-fuelled thermal power plants. About 80 per cent of the province's electricity is produced by major hydroelectric generating stations on the Columbia and Peace rivers. BC Hydro's various facilities generate between 56,000 and 54,000 gigawatt hours of electricity annually, depending on prevailing water levels.

Picture: forest under severe attack by mountain pine beetle. Credit: British Columbia, Ministry of Forests and Range.

Map: mountain pine beetle infestation. Credit: Canadian Forest Service.


BC Hydro: BC Hydro to advance bioenergy production to utilize wood fibre - February 6, 2008.

BC Hydro: Bioenergy Call for Power ("Bioenergy Call") [overview] - February 6, 2008.

BC Hydro: Bioenergy Call RFP [*.pdf] - February 6, 2008.

Canadian Forest Service: Meet the Mountain Pine Beetle.

Biopact: British Columbia launches Bioenergy Strategy: electricity self sufficiency with biomass, zero GHG emissions from power, 50% biofuels by 2020 - February 01, 2008

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Bioenergy opportunities help Scotland's forestry sector

Unprecedented levels of new investment, the new opportunities brought by bioenergy, and the ability of wood processors to fight off fierce global competition is a 'major success story' for the timber industry in Scotland announced Environment Minister Michael Russell during a parliamentary debate.

In the last two years alone, investment in new wood processing projects has amounted to £250 million which is helping to develop a number of new sawmills and major biomass energy projects around the country. Over 40,000 jobs are now supported by the forestry sector in Scotland and the industry generates around £760 million each year to the economy. Speaking at a forestry debate in the Scottish Parliament, Russell highlighted that Scottish Government support for the forestry sector was also at record levels.
The unprecedented levels of investment in the processing and wood utilisation sector can only be described as a major success story. Our processors have fought off fierce global competition and managed to remain profitable through a period of historically low timber prices. This is testament to the industry's business acumen and its ability to adapt and innovate. - Michael Russell, Scotland's Environment Minister
In 1970 just under three quarters of a million cubic metres of timber were produced in Scotland, mainly from the national forest estate. In 2007, Scotland's forests produced 6.6. million cubic metres, more than half from the private sector.
In fact, our forests currently produce some 6.6 million cubic metres of softwood round timber each year and this is set to rise to nearly 9 million cubic metres by 2016. An interesting analysis of statistics suggest that timber consumption is now running at 6.5 million cubic metres a year which could demonstrate that Scotland is currently self sufficient in wood related material. However, it is also important to realise that Scotland makes a key contribution to the UK’s timber needs, helping it to reduce its global carbon footprint. - Michael Russell
The Scottish Government is providing strong support for the sector with £269 million being allocated to forestry measures through the Scottish Rural Development Programme. This funding will act as a catalyst for new planting, enabling the sector to plant around 10,000 hectares each year. This growth in planting will also help our aspiration of expanding woodland cover to 25 per cent of Scotland's land area this century.
The emergence of the bioenergy sector also represents a huge opportunity for Scotland's forests and woodlands. The Scottish Biomass Support Scheme has been well subscribed, and 67 new projects worth £17 million will come on stream this year, assisted by £7.5 million of Scottish Government funding. - Michael Russell
The Scottish Biomass Support Scheme gives grants to business to encourage the use of alternative and renewable resources to conventional oil and gas fired equipment, for the generation of heat and power in domestic and industrial processes.

Energy company E.ON is in the final stages of the construction of the UK's largest bioenergy plant, located in Steven's Croft, Scotland (previous post). Farmers in southern Scotland have become aware of the bright prospects for bioenergy and have begun turning over large slices of their land to growing willow, a short rotation coppice energy crop. But other forestry resources will be tapped as well.

The new biomass project is the largest of its kind in the United Kingdom. The £90 (€133/US$178) million E.ON facility is expected to be fully operational by the end of the year. It will be capable of performing the following tasks:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

  • generating enough electricity to power 70,000 homes
  • providing over 300 jobs in the forestry and energy farming sector
  • displacing the emission of 140,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases each year
The new biomass plant is one of a number of green power projects across Scotland which are fuelled by wood. The increasing demand for timber supplies has prompted Mr Russell to examine how to meet the future needs of the sector. The Minister announced plans for the Forestry Commission Scotland to lead an industry task force to work to balance supply and demand in the long term.

The new task force will consider ways of bringing forward supplies from currently under-utilised sources such as forest residues, short rotation coppice and under-managed woodlands. It will also consider the impact of increased demand for wood fuel on the future balance between supply and demand within the wood processing sector. The task force will be led by Forestry Commission Scotland and will include representatives from the renewable energy, wood processing and land management sectors.

According to the minister, forestry is an integral part of sustainable rural development. It creates employment, makes great use of a natural renewable resource, contributes to the local and national economy and supports community cohesion. This is why the Scottish Government is committed to helping this sector realise its full potential, firmly establishing Scotland at the heart of UK forestry.

Great Britain Forestry Commission: Timber on a High - February 7, 2008.

Biopact: UK's largest biomass plant approved, biomass task force created - June 16, 2007

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ZeaChem uses termite gut microbe for ethanol: up to 50% yield increase

A type of bacteria that helps termites digest wood could be key to making ethanol cheaply from non-food crops such as wood and grass. ZeaChem, a startup based in Menlo Park, California, has developed a hybrid biochemical and thermochemical process that utilizes all fractions of the biomass feed and converts it with Moorella thermoacetica. The process can yield 50 percent more ethanol from a given amount of biomass than conventional processes. The net energy ratio of biofuel produced this way is between 10 and 12, compared with first generation biofuels like corn ethanol, which come in at around 1.5. The new net energy ratio benchmark radically changes any biofuel policy debate.

The company has demonstrated the new method in a laboratory setting and is now drawing up plans for an ethanol plant that will produce about two million gallons of ethanol a year. Construction could begin as early as this year, says Dan Verser, a founder and vice president of research and development at ZeaChem. It is one of a growing number of biofuel companies seeking to make ethanol from biomass instead of corn, since corn requires large amounts of land, water, and energy to grow.

Acetic acid

ZeaChem's approach to biorefining uses a combination of biochemical and thermochemical processing steps (schematic, click to enlarge). The hybrid process improves yield by making more efficient use of biomass than conventional techniques do. It begins, as do other techniques for making ethanol, with breaking down biomass into sugars. At this point, conventional processes use yeast to ferment the sugars into ethanol. But this process is wasteful: about a third of the carbon in the sugars never makes it into the fuel. Instead, it's released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

ZeaChem replaces yeast with a type of bacteria called Moorella thermoacetica, which can be found in a number of places in nature, including termite guts and the ruminant of cows, where it helps break down grass. Instead of making ethanol and carbon dioxide, the bacteria convert sugars into a component of vinegar called acetic acid, a process that releases no carbon dioxide.

To convert acetic acid into ethanol, ZeaChem turns to chemistry. First, the company's researchers convert the acid into a common solvent called ethyl acetate - something that chemists have long known how to do. The final step - making ethanol - requires adding energy to the system in the form of hydrogen.

To get the hydrogen, ZeaChem uses material left over from the process that converts biomass into sugars. This material, called lignin, can be converted into a hydrogen-rich mixture of gases by gasification. The hydrogen is then combined with ethyl acetate to make ethanol:
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The remaining gases in the mixture are fed back into the process to provide the energy needed for gasification, making use of material that otherwise would have gone to waste and eliminating the need to use fossil fuels. So far, the company has shown more than 40 percent better yield compared with conventional approaches, and it sees a theoretically possible improvement of 50 percent.

The new approach allows both fermentable and non-fermentable fractions of the feedstock to contribute chemical energy to the ethanol product. Other techniques have theoretical restrictions that limit ethanol production to 60-100 gallons per dry ton of biomass. The ZeaChem technology gets up to half more than that out of a ton.

Because the yield is so much higher and because energy integration is tighter, the ZeaChem process is friendlier to the environment. According to the company, ethanol produced by corn dry milling in the US has a net energy ratio of under 1.6, meaning that fewer than 1.6 units of renewable energy are produced for each unit of fossil energy used in the production the crops and conversion of the crops into fuel ethanol. In contrast, the ZeaChem technology enables a net energy ratio of 10-12. Such high values fundamentally change the nature of any policy debate on the environmental aspects of ethanol as a liquid transportation fuel.

The biochemical processing step can ferment any fermentable sugar, including simple sugars like those found in sugar cane juice, more complex sugars found in corn starch, and the mixed sugars commonly found in cellulosic hydrolyzates. Any material that isn't readily fermented, such as lignin, can be processed via thermochemical means to produce hydrogen. The result is that the ZeaChem technology is highly flexibile and can be implemented anywhere in the world.

According to James McMillan, a research scientist and group manager at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), says this is a very innovative process. He says that it's important to get as much ethanol from the feedstock as possible, since the final cost of ethanol depends heavily on the cost of feedstock. Although ZeaChem's process is more complicated than methods used now, and building ethanol plants that use it will cost more, McMillan says that the improved yield could make up for these increased costs.

Picture: a rare sample of ethanol created from wood chips using a new process. So far the alcohol is made a few bottles at a time, but in a couple of years millions of gallons could be available. Credit: Karen T. Borchers/Mercury News

ZeaChem: Technology Overview.

MIT Technology Review: Creating Ethanol from Wood More Efficiently - February 5, 2008.

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NASA-funded study examines effects of energy crops on local weather

Scientists at South Dakota State University's Geographic Information Science Center of Excellence have received a $738,000 grant from NASA to study the impact of new energy crops on weather and climate prediction models. The analysis could help biofuel producers and farmers assess weather and wildfire related risks.

With increased interest in cellulosic biofuel production, an increasing number of farmers are considering growing high biomass yielding perennial grasses such as switchgrass and miscanthus rather than corn or soybeans for ethanol and biodiesel production.

This transition, spurred by the emergence of efficient second generation biofuels, generates a set of factors that can change the seasonal cycle of water and energy exchanges between the land and the lower portion of the atmosphere. For example, perennial grasses use more water in the early stages of their growing season than corn or soybean plants.

The three-year study will focus on land use in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, western Minnesota and northern Iowa. Preliminary results should be available in 12 to 24 months, said Geoffrey Henebry, an SDSU professor and senior scientist at the center.

Senior scientist Michael Wimberly said the researchers are not trying to predict exactly what will happen. Their goal is to make some broad but reasonable assumptions about some possible future landscapes and how those may affect the weather. At this point, they do not have any foregone conclusions.

Even though they are merely beginning the study, the rationale for the research comes from the observation made in past studies which looked at the interactions of different types of land cover and regional weather, which found that there are a variety of effects.

The researchers are operating on the assumption that there will be a fairly heterogeneous mix of different types of crops in the future: traditional first generation crops combined with new energy crops such as grasses.

The study will also help reduce some risks that come with growing perennial grasses, such as the potential of wildfires:
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Dried-out grasses are a hot fuel source, and farm machinery could easily provide a spark for ignition. That could become a problem in a region known for its relatively high sustained winds, and not many fire departments have experience in large grass fires, Henebry said.

Switchgrass is highly flammable, and grass fires are really fast and furious. Such fires were common in the tall grass prairie thousands of years before European settlement.

Wimberly added research could lead to the development of practices to decrease such risks. If the hazards are recognized and understood, then there's a good chance they can be managed and mitigated, the researcher said. The idea is to get out ahead of the curve and try to envision some of these things rather than being in a reactive mode somewhere down the line after they become a problem.

The Geographic Information Science Center of Excellence (GIScCE) is a joint collaboration between South Dakota State University (SDSU) and the United States Geological Survey's National Center for Earth Resources Observation and Sciences (EROS). The purpose of the GIScCE is to enable South Dakota State University faculty and students, and EROS scientists to carry out collaborative research, seek professional development, and implement educational programs in the applications of geographic information science.

Picture: Switchgrass as a biofuel and bioenergy crops. Credit: Stephen Ausmus.

South Dakota State University: Geographic Information Science Center of Excellence.

Ethanol Producer Magazine: NASA-funded study may help biofuels producers - February 5, 2008.

Minnesota Public Radio: NASA-funded study to examine crops' effect on weather - February - February 4, 2008.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ecologists find nitrogen pollution boosts plant growth in tropics by 20 percent - relevance for bioenergy

A study by UC Irvine ecologists finds that excess nitrogen in tropical forests boosts plant growth by an average of 20 percent, countering the belief that such tropical ecosystems would not respond to nitrogen pollution. Surprisingly, not only pristine rainforests but those regrown from slash-and-burn agriculture - which make up more than half the world's tropical forests - also responded to the added nitrogen. One of the researchers told Biopact that tropical grasslands responded as well, but the intensity of the response depended on precipitation levels. The research results appear in the February issue of the journal Ecology (in press).

These findings could be significant to the bioenergy community, because they would imply that biochar based carbon-negative bioenergy systems ("slash-and-char") could be even more viable than estimated: their capacity to store atmospheric carbon dioxide into soils, via biochar obtained from regrown forests and energy crops, would be enhanced because of the increased plant growth resulting from atmospheric nitrogen fertilization.

Faster plant growth means the tropics will take in more carbon dioxide than previously thought, though long-term climate effects are unclear, the researchers say. Over the next century, nitrogen pollution is expected to steadily rise, with the most dramatic increases in rapidly developing tropical regions such as India, South America, Africa and Southeast Asia.

Major nitrogen sources are N fertilizer, applied to farmland to improve crop yield, which affects ecosystems downwind by seeping into runoff water and evaporating into the atmosphere. Industrial burning and forest clearing also pumps nitrogen into the air.

Using data from more than 100 previously published studies, David LeBauer, graduate researcher of Earth system science at UCI and lead author of the study, and Kathleen Treseder, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UCI, analyzed global trends in nitrogen’s effect on growth rates in ecosystems ranging from tropical forests and grasslands to wetlands and tundra. Nitrogen, they found, increased plant growth in all ecosystems except for deserts (figure, click to enlarge).

Surprisingly, tropical forests that were seasonally dry, located in mountainous regions or had regrown from slash-and-burn agriculture also responded to added nitrogen. Although these are not the tropical forests that typically come to mind, they collectively account for more than half of the world’s tropical forests.

Tropical grasslands responded too, but here the picture is more complex, as tropical grasslands are also limited by precipitation. The proportional increase in grassland productivity was constant across a rainfall gradient, but total growth increase was greatest at high levels of precipitation:
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Scientists believed added nitrogen would have little effect in the tropics because plants there typically have ample nitrogen and are constrained by low levels of phosphorus. If one necessary plant nutrient is in short supply – in this case phosphorus – plant growth will be poor, even if other nutrients such as nitrogen are abundant. Experiments in the study added nitrogen at the high end of ambient nitrogen pollution to test the maximum potential response.

It is difficult to predict the long-term effects of nitrogen on global climate change. One factor will be the degree to which humans change natural ecosystems, for example by cutting down or burning the tropical forests. Further, climate change may determine whether these areas grow back as forests or if they are replaced by grasslands or deserts. It also is unknown how nitrogen will affect the fate of carbon once plants die and begin to decompose.
What is clear is that we need to consider how nitrogen pollution interacts with carbon dioxide pollution. Our study is a step toward understanding the far-reaching effects of nitrogen pollution and how it may change our climate. - David LeBauer
The scientists' work was supported by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and a fellowship from the Kearney Foundation for Soil Science.


LeBauer, David S., and Kathleen K. Treseder. 2008. "Nitrogen limitation of net primary productivity in terrestrial ecosystems is globally distributed", Ecology 89:371–379 (in press).

LeBauer, David: Nitrogen Limitation of Net Primary Productivity - research page at the UCI.

UC Irvine: Nitrogen pollution boosts plant growth in tropics by 20 percent - February 6, 2008.

Biopact: Biochar and carbon-negative bioenergy: boosts crop yields, fights climate change and reduces deforestation - January 28, 2008

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StatoilHydro and India's ONGC team up for carbon capture & storage and CDM projects

StatoilHydro and India's leading oil company ONGC have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to jointly explore the potential of developing Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), and CDM (clean development mechanism) projects in India.

The two companies have agreed to jointly screen possibilities for developing CCS and CDM projects within ONGC’s operations in India. The cooperation could result in CO2 emissions reduction projects as well as the promotion of energy efficiency and growing use of renewable energy under the mechanisms of the Kyoto Protocol.

Biopact continues to track CCS developments (see references) because the technologies can be applied to bioenergy, in which case the most radically green energy system emerges: one that actively removes CO2 from the atmosphere to yield 'negative emissions'. When CCS is coupled to biomass-based electricity production or to biohydrogen production, each time consumers use the decarbonized energy, they would be cleaning up the atmosphere and be fighting climate change. Bioenergy coupled to CCS overcomes the senseless binary opposition often heard in clean energy debates, which pit fossil fuels with carbon capture versus renewables. "Bio-energy with carbon storage" (BECS) systems are both: renewable, and capturing carbon.

Nuclear power or renewables like wind, biomass and solar are called 'carbon neutral' because they do not add CO2 to the atmosphere, or only very small amounts over their lifecycle. But carbon-negative bioenergy goes much further: when CO2 from carbon-neutral bioenergy production is captured and then stored, a negative emissions energy system appears. This is so because during their growth, crops capture and store CO2 from the atmosphere. If, after extracting the energy from these energy crops, the greenhouse gas is geosequestered, the negative emissions balance is the result.

Such radical BECS systems, using CCS technologies developed by the fossil fuel industry, can yield negative carbon emissions as large as minus 1000 grams per kWh of electricity. Ordinary renewables all result in net emissions (solar: +100gCO2eq/kWh, wind and non-BECS biomass: +30gCO2eq/kWh, nuclear: +15gCO2eq/kWh). In short, the difference between BECS and all other energy systems is very significant (graph, click to enlarge).

What is more, one of the major obstacles to the implementation of CCS projects when used on fossil fuels - the issue of CO2 leakage - would be absent in BECS systems, because the CO2 is biogenic in nature and would not result in net carbon emissions. Any leakage from BECS sequestration sites would be benign, in contrast to leakages from sequestered CO2 that originated from fossil fuels.

A Biopact member was recently interviewed by Mongabay, a leading environmental news organisation, about the potential and risks of BECS systems in developing countries. Laurens Rademakers explained biomass can be produced efficiently in many of these countries, some of who already have oil & gas infrastructures in place (which could coupled to CCS), and where suitable geosequestration sites are present. India would be one such country and could benefit greatly from BECS systems, as it is set to become the world's third largest carbon emitter in the mid term future.

For the time being, CCS is not included in any formal emissions reduction scheme - neither in the EU's plans and mechanisms nor in the Kyoto Protocol's CMD. But if CCS were to be included, the radical negative emissions BECS systems could be appearing first in developing countries, because they have a large and sustainable potential for the production of biomass:
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The signing between StatoilHYdro took place at a special event organised by TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute) and the Norwegian Embassy prior to the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit (DSDS) in New Delhi, 7-9 February.

Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr Rajendra Pachauri were also present at the signing.
The agreement is an excellent start for developing environmental projects and technology transfers. India’s energy sector is growing fast and we’re excited to contribute with our CCS and CDM competence in the cooperation with ONGC. - Alexandra Bech Gjørv, Senior Vice President New Energy, StatoilHydro
The DSDS is an annual event that has matured into India’s most important gathering of international leaders concerned with global sustainable development. This year’s conference attracted the prime ministers of India, Norway, Denmark and Finland, as well as numerous ministers and government officials from several countries.

StatoilHydro has an agreement with ONGC that gives it access to exploration acreage off India, mostly in deep water. StatoilHydro will also enter block 98/2 in the KG basin on the Indian east coast with a 10% equity share. ONGC will receive technological support from StatoilHydro to increase the recovery of its Vasai East oil field. Furthermore, StatoilHydro will also provide ONGC with offshore operator know-how. Gas finds in the area The 98/2 block that is operated by ONGC is in the appraisal phase after a number of gas finds have been made in the block.

A CCS agreement between a European oil & gas company and a developing, emerging economy is not new. Recently, Total SA and Indonesia signed a similar deal. Indonesia is one of the leading candidates to implement CCS projects. It too has a large biofuel potential that could be coupled to carbon capture and storage (previous post).


StatoilHydro: StatoilHydro and ONGC cooperate in India - February 6, 2008.

Biopact: Total and Indonesia sign a MOU on CO2 capture and storage: towards carbon negative bioenergy? - December 17, 2007

Mongabay: Carbon-negative bioenergy to cut global warming could drive deforestation:
An interview on BECS with Biopact's Laurens Rademakers
- November 6, 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

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The bioeconomy at work: Cereplast introduces first-ever freeze-tolerant compostable bioplastic

Cereplast, Inc., manufacturer of bio-based, sustainable plastics, extended the range of applications for biodegradable, compostable plastic with the introduction of the first-ever freeze-tolerant resin, CP-INJ-13. The newest addition to the Cereplast Compostables resin family retains structural rigidity in freezing temperatures, ideal for frozen food applications, such as ice cream containers, and all applications requiring resistance to low temperature and/or high flexibility.

The new polylactic acid (PLA)-based resin exhibits superior flexibility compared to other PLA-based products, allowing it to withstand sub-zero environments. CP-INJ-13 provides structural integrity in temperatures as low as -35 °C, compared to about -20 °C for standard PLA-based plastic. In addition, tensile elongation is approximately 10 times greater (284 per cent for CP-INJ-13 and typical 25 per cent or less for neat PLA as measured by ASTM D638) and the notched IZOD impact measures 2.5 lb-ft/in. at 23 C compared with 0.5 lb-ft/in with traditional PLA-based plastic.
The new addition to our product lineup is a direct result of customer demand for freeze-capable bioplastic products. We are constantly working with our customers to find solutions to their needs, and therefore expanding the applications of biodegradable, compostable plastic. - William Kelly, Cereplast Senior Vice President, Technology.
Cereplast Compostables resins are renewable, ecologically sound substitutes for petroleum-based plastic products, replacing nearly 100 per cent of the petroleum-based additives used in traditional plastics. Cereplast Compostables resins are starch-based, made from corn, wheat, tapioca and potato starches:
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All Cereplast Compostables resins are certified as biodegradable and compostable in the United States and Europe, meeting BPI (Biodegradable Products Institute) standards for compostability (ASTM 6400 D99 and ASTM 6868), and European Bioplastics standards (EN 13432).

Scientists analysing the production of green bulk chemicals from plants - from which countless products including bioplastics can be made - recently found that they can in some cases constitute a more efficient use of land compared with the transformation of biomass into liquid fuels. The research also showed such bio-based platform chemicals can reduce carbon emissions by up to 1 billion tons by 2020, by replacing petroleum and natural gas based chemicals (previous post). The findings are a boon to the bioplastics industry.

Cereplast designs and manufactures proprietary bio-based, sustainable plastics which are used as substitutes for petroleum-based plastics in all major converting processes -- such as injection molding, thermoforming, blow molding and extrusions -- at a pricing structure that is competitive with petroleum-based plastics. On the cutting-edge of bio-based plastic material development, Cereplast now offers resins to meet a variety of customer demands. Cereplast Compostables resins are ideally suited for single use applications where high bio-based content and compostability are advantageous, especially in the food service industry. Cereplast Hybrid Resins products combine the high bio-based content with the durability and endurance of traditional plastic, making them ideal for applications in industries such as automotive, consumer electronics and packaging.

Cereplast: Cereplast Expands Bioplastic Applications with Freeze-Tolerant Compostable Resin - January 22, 2008.

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

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Coskata forms strategic alliance with ICM to build commercial syngas-fermentation ethanol plant

Coskata, Inc., an innovative developer of next-generation ethanol, today announced a strategic alliance with ICM, Inc. to design and construct a commercial ethanol plant using Coskata’s hybrid syngas-biofermentation technology.

Coskata is the second-generation biofuel developer that recently entered a partnership with General Motors, announcing its breakthrough process makes cellulosic ethanol for under a dollar a gallon a reality. The highly efficient gasification-fermentation process can use practically any source of biomass as a feedstock (previous post). Many analysts believe the arrival of this type of cellulosic biofuels ends the food versus fuel debate.

The new alliance brings in ICM, North America’s leading ethanol plant design, engineering and support firm. ICM's patented proprietary process technology is responsible for approximately 50 percent of North American ethanol production from plants constructed by Fagen, Inc. and ICM.

The first Coskata plant, expected to open in late 2010, will be the staging ground for the world’s first mass-produced next-generation ethanol. The location of Coskata’s first facility will be announced at a later date.
Coskata and ICM will speed the commercialization of a process that will convert biomass into advanced biofuels from a number of renewable materials, at a production cost of less than $1 a gallon. Aligning with ICM on one of our first commercial plants is a natural choice because of their unrivaled biofuels technical knowledge and ability. This strategic alliance moves us a step closer to the arrival of Coskata’s next-generation ethanol in the marketplace. - Bill Roe, president and CEO of Coskata
Using patented microorganisms and efficient bioreactor designs, Coskata uses a unique three-step conversion process that turns virtually any carbon-based feedstock, including biomass, municipal solid waste, bagasse, and other agricultural waste into ethanol (schematic, click to enlarge). The technology is globally applicable. The process is environmentally sound, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 84 percent compared to gasoline, as well as generates up to 7.7 times as much net energy as is required to produce the ethanol, according to Argonne National Laboratory:
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In addition to ICM’s own research and development efforts, ICM evaluated other potential cellulosic ethanol technologies to identify commercially viable processes. Coskata’s thermal biomass conversion process offers promising technology. It has always been ICM’s mission to help sustain agriculture through innovation. Coskata’s production process makes them a valuable ally as we continue to pursue advancements in renewable technology towards the creation of advanced and cellulosic biofuels as directed by the recent Energy Bill. - Dave Vander Griend, president and CEO of ICM
Under the new Energy Bill, the U.S. is set to become a biofuelled nation. The law raises the Renewable Fuel Standard to 36 billion gallons (136 billion liters) by 2022, roughly the equivalent of between 1.8 and 2 million barrels of oil per day. Of that, corn ethanol production is capped at 15 billion gallons per year starting in 2015 (56.8 billion liters), a three-fold increase of current production levels; the remainder is expected provided by 'advanced biofuels', the majority of which are cellulosic biofuels. In the final year of the standard (2022), cellulosic biofuels should contribute more (16 billion gallons) than does corn ethanol (15 billion gallons).

Coskata is a biology-based renewable energy company that is commercializing technology to produce biofuels from a wide variety of feedstocks. Using proprietary microorganisms and transformative bioreactor designs, the company projects that it will be able to produce ethanol for less than $1.00 per gallon almost anywhere in the world from a wide variety of feedstocks, based upon continued successful future development. Coskata has compiled a strong IP portfolio of patents, trade secrets, and know-how and assembled a first-class team for the development and commercialization of its compelling syngas-to-ethanol process technology.

BusinessWire: Coskata, Inc. Forms Strategic Alliance with ICM to Design and Build Commercial Ethanol Plants - February 6, 2007.

Biopact: GM and Coskata claim cellulosic ethanol has arrived: gasification-fermentation process yields biofuel for under $1 per gallon - January 15, 2008

Biopact: US becomes biofuel nation as Congress approves Energy Bill - December 19, 2007

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Two sugarcane ethanol plants for the Dominican Republic: biofuels reanimate sugar sector

The recently incorporated company Bio E Group today announced the construction, together with other foreign investors, of two ethanol plants in the Dominican Republic. The distilleries come at a cost of US$300 (€205) million, and will produce 35 million gallons (13.2 million liters) of ethanol and 30 megawatts of renewable electricity each per year. The feedstock for the biofuel is sugarcane, the residues of which (bagasse) will be used to feed the cogeneration units. The biofuel projects contribute to the revival of the sugar sector, which has been in decline since the 1980s.

After Cuba, the Dominican Republic is the second-largest Caribbean producer of sugarcane, the nation's most important commercial crop. But low world prices since the 1980s have ruined the sector, pushing countless farmers out of work and into poverty. Many of the state-owned sugar mills, who accounted for half the production, closed down. Production of sugarcane rose from 8.6 million tons in 1970 to 1.1 million tons in 1983 after which decline set it. In 2006, the country produced a mere 500,000 tons (graph, click to enlarge).

The biofuels opportunity is now set to revive the sugar sector and is expected to boost the island state's rural economy, which employs 17 percent of its work force and contributes more to its GDP than any other economic sector, around 11 per cent.

The announced ethanol plants will be located in the townships Bayaguana, Monte Plata province (east) and Quisqueya, San Pedro province (east). Bio E Group president Alfonso Fermín Balcácer said the two partner companies will generate an estimated RD$900 million (€18.1/US$26.6 million) per year in the zones where they will operate.

At a press conference organized by the National Energy Commission (CNE), Balcácer said the projects will provide 12,000 direct jobs. The large number of jobs is projected because the biofuel consortium will not produce its own sugarcane but will buy it from local farmers at a fair price:
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According to Balcácer, the international companies Tomsa Destil (from Spain) and Biotech will share ownership of the distilleries. Both companies supposedly have more than 100 years combined experience in ethanol and sugar production and have erected or managed 400 distilleries around the world.

The president of the National Commission of Energy, Arístides Fernandez Zucco, who represented the State in the presentation of the projects, said that the government guarantees a climate of confidence for the investments, through a legal framework. He clarified that the State does not have any participation in the activities, "because this is a business for the private sector."

The ethanol to be produced will have a purity of 99.8 percent, making it readily blendable with gasoline. The dehydrated ethanol could be exported to the U.S., because the Dominican Republic does not fall under the ethanol tariff regime imposed on other producers.

Besides ethanol, both projects will generate electricity from two 30MW cogeneration units. The feedstock is bagasse, the abundant biomass residue from sugarcane processing.

The utilization of bagasse for energy makes sugarcane ethanol a fuel with a very strong energy balance (energy inputs needed to produce the fuel, versus energy contained in the fuel; also called 'net energy return' or 'energy return on energy invested' - EROEI). For Brazilian ethanol, the EROEI is between 8 and 10 to 1. This compares favorably to most other biofuels (e.g. corn ethanol has a net energy return of 1.2 to 1.5 to 1).

According to Bio E Group, the projects have received approval under the new Renewable Energy Law, which provides the legal framework for the biofuels sector.

No date was provided for the start of the operations of production at the plants, but the company said feasibility studies and agronomic assessments had already been completed or are to be finalised within the next three months.

El Caribe: Instalarán dos destilerías - Producirán 70 millones de galones de etanol al año - February 6, 2007.

El Dinero: Inversionistas extranjeros invertirán US$300 MM en dos destilerías para producir etanol - February 6, 2007.

FAOStat production data for sugarcane.

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Bush budget does not change ethanol import tariff - Brazil disappointed

U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman hinted last week the Bush administration might address cutting back the 54-cent-per-gallon import tariff on ethanol in its 2009 budget. But the budget has been sent to Congress and did not propose any changes to the tariff that is set to expire this year. Brazil is disappointed and says the tariff blocks U.S. consumers from using more efficient and environmentally friendly biofuels, such as ethanol based on sugarcane.

The Bush administration said it would discuss with lawmakers later this year what should be done when tariff is set to expire at the end of December 2008, which falls during the 2009 budget year that begins October 1.

The tariff is designed to protect U.S. corn-based ethanol makers from cheaper imports, mainly from Brazil and other developing countries that make ethanol in a far more efficient way from highly productive crops like sugarcane.

But numerous social, environmental, development and energy think tanks have called for the complete abandonment of all EU and US tariffs and trade barriers on biofuels because they distort trade and are responsible for increased food prices: from the IEA and the World Bank, to the IMF, the IISD, the OECD and the FAO - all have warned that these measures deny poorer countries market access, limit the availability of the most efficient biofuels, and could have detrimental effects on the environment.

Just recently, the OECD repeated that the tariffs are 'wasteful' and 'distorting'. And according to the IMF, biofuels are not to blame for food price increases, but these protectionist measures are - the fund called for their abolishment. For once, free trade could help developing countries, many of who have a large sustainable biofuels production potential that can be tapped in a highly efficient and competitive way. According to many food and agriculture experts, freely traded biofuels could help fight hunger and poverty (more here, here and here). All of this, however, requires an abandonment of protectionist measures.

Amongst those in favor of phasing out the 54-cents-per-gallon tariff is Energy Secretary Bodman who had indicated last week while speaking at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that he favored eliminating or cutting it back:
I would just say I think that there are advantages to having had the kind of both subsidies and tariffs that have helped protect this industry. I believe that, the best I can tell, this industry is pretty close to being able to stand on its own. - Samuel Bodman, U.S. Energy Secretary
Subsidies that support corn-based ethanol production have been blamed for soaring feed grain costs that have greatly increased the cost of meat production. According to the Global Subsidies Initiative, biofuel support in the U.S. amounted to $5.6 billion in 2006, and could be higher this year (previous post):
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Developing countries in the South, where biofuels can be produced more efficiently and competitively, have argued that these subsidies and the import duty distort trade. They have hinted at possible legal action at the World Trade Organisation.

Some U.S. farm-state congressmen, however, support the subsidies, and presidential candidates have campaigned on the issue, saying they support them too . What is more, U.S. ethanol blenders get a separate 51-cent-a-gallon tax credit that runs through 2010, a measure that was included in the Senate farm bill, which is now in conference committee with the House.

Commenting on the Energy Department's new budget and its lack of a call to phase out the tariff, Deputy Energy Secretary Clay Sell said:
I think it's very important that we pursue a policy which gives the U.S. industry appropriate time and protection to develop.
Brazil sugar cane sector has meanwhile reacted and expressed its disappointment over the fact that the administration did not use the new budget to modify the U.S. ethanol import tariff.
The continuing ethanol tariff runs counter to America's open and fair trade rhetoric. It is shocking that developed countries such as the United States continue to tax renewable biofuels from reliable democratic partners while encouraging tariff-free imports of petroleum from unstable regions of the world. - Marcos Jank, president of the Brazilian Cane Sugar Industry.
However, the Renewable Fuels Association, which represents U.S. ethanol producers, said the import tariff is needed to encourage investment in the U.S. to develop cellulosic ethanol made from wood chips, switchgrass and other farm and forest waste.

"By removing the tariff ... you will cool the kind of investment you have seen in the industry," said RFA spokesman Matt Hartwig.


Reuters: Bush budget doesn't alter ethanol import tariff - February 4, 2008.

Facts about ethanol: DOE Secy Bodman hints FY09 budget may propose changing ethanol tariff - January 30, 2008.

Biopact: World Bank chief calls on U.S. to remove ethanol tariffs - March 14, 2007

Biopact: IEA chief economist: EU, US should scrap tariffs and subsidies, import biofuels from the South - March 06, 2007

Biopact: Worldwatch Institute: biofuels may bring major benefits to world's rural poor - August 06, 2007

Biopact: IFPRI report: more free trade needed to tackle rising food prices; small farmers could benefit - December 04, 2007

Biopact: IMF chief economist: biofuels could help cut farm subsidies, protectionism main cause of high food prices - December 06, 2007

Biopact: OECD calls biofuel tariffs "wasteful" and "destorting"; calls for open markets - January 14, 2008

Biopact: Paper warns against subsidies for inefficient biofuels in the North, calls for liberalisation of market - major boost to idea of 'Biopact' - September 11, 2007

Biopact: FAO chief calls for a 'Biopact' between the North and the South - August 15, 2007

Biopact: Subsidies for uncompetitive U.S. biofuels cost taxpayers billions - report - October 26, 2006

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Leading banks establish "Carbon Principles" to strengthen environmental and economic risk management for investments power sector

Three of the world’s leading financial institutions have announced the formation of "The Carbon Principles", climate change guidelines for advisors and lenders to power companies in the United States. These Principles are the result of a nine-month intensive effort to create an approach to evaluating and addressing carbon risks in the financing of electric power projects. The need for these Principles is driven by the risks faced by the power industry as utilities, independent producers, regulators, lenders and investors deal with the uncertainties around regional and national climate change policy.

The Principles were developed in partnership by Citi, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley, and in consultation with leading power companies American Electric Power, CMS Energy, DTE Energy, NRG Energy, PSEG, Sempra and Southern Company. Environmental Defense and the Natural Resources Defense Council, environmental non-governmental organizations, also advised on the creation of the Principles.

This effort is the first time a group of banks has come together and consulted with power companies and environmental groups to develop a process for understanding carbon risk around power sector investments needed to meet future economic growth and the needs of consumers for reliable and affordable energy. The consortium has developed an Enhanced Diligence framework to help lenders better understand and evaluate the potential carbon risks associated with coal plant investments.

The Principles recognize the benefits of a portfolio approach to meeting the power needs of consumers, without prescribing how power companies should act to meet these needs. However, if high carbon dioxide-emitting technologies are selected by power companies, the signatory banks have agreed to follow the Enhanced Diligence process and factor these risks and potential mitigants into the final financing decision.
There was full and frank dialogue around the table. There was a remarkable amount of debate and exchange of information and views among the banks, power companies and environmental organizations. The dialogue resulted in a rigorous analysis of the carbon risks in power investments, and sets the stage for further discussion. - Matt Arnold, director of Sustainable Finance
Citi, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley have pledged their commitment to the Principles to use as a framework when talking about these issues with clients. This effort creates a consistent approach among major lenders and advisors in evaluating climate change risks and opportunities in the US electric power industry. The Principles and associated Enhanced Diligence represent a first step in a process aimed at providing banks and their power industry clients with a consistent roadmap for reducing the regulatory and financial risks associated with greenhouse gas emissions.

The Principles are:
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Renewable and low carbon distributed energy technologies. Renewable energy and low carbon distributed energy technologies hold considerable promise for meeting the electricity needs of the US while also leveraging American technology and creating jobs. The signatories will encourage clients to invest in cost-effective renewables and distributed technologies, taking into consideration the value of avoided CO2 emissions. They will also encourage legislative and regulatory changes that remove barriers to, and promote such investments (including related investments in infrastructure and equipment needed to support the connection of renewable sources to the system). Futhermore, they will consider production increases from renewable and low carbon generation as part of the Enhanced Diligence process and assess their impact on proposed financings of certain new fossil fuel generation.

Energy efficiency. An effective way to limit CO2 emissions is to not produce them. The signatory financial institutions will encourage clients to invest in cost-effective demand reduction, taking into consideration the value of avoided CO2 emissions. They will also encourage regulatory and legislative changes that increase efficiency in electricity consumption including the removal of barriers to investment in cost-effective demand reduction. The institutions will consider demand reduction caused by increased energy efficiency (or other means) as part of the Enhanced Diligence Process and assess its impact on proposed financings of certain new fossil fuel generation.

Conventional and advanced generation. In addition to cost effective energy efficiency, renewables and low carbon distributed generation, investments in conventional or advanced generating facilities will be needed to supply reliable electric power to the US market. This may include power from natural gas, coal and nuclear technologies. Due to evolving climate policy, investing in CO2-emitting fossil fuel generation entails uncertain financial, regulatory and certain environmental liability risks. It is the purpose of the Enhanced Diligence process to assess and reflect these risks in the financing considerations for certain fossil fuel generation. The signatories will encourage regulatory and legislative changes that facilitate carbon capture and storage (CCS) to further reduce CO2 emissions from the electric sector.
Leading utilities and financial institutions understand that the rules of the road have changed for coal. These principles are a first step in facilitating an honest assessment of electric generation options in light of the obvious and pressing need to substantially reduce national greenhouse gas pollution. - Mark Brownstein, managing director of business partnerships for Environmental Defense
Dale Bryk, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council added, that exxpectations are rising fast for the energy industry. Global warming is changing the competitive landscape. Clean power is the name of the game today. Conventional coal facilities are already facing intensive scrutiny. The Natural Resources Defence Council think the serious money is increasingly going to be on clean, efficient solutions.

Morgan Stanley: Leading Wall Street Banks Establish The Carbon Principles - February 4, 2008.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

WMO mobilizes global efforts in climate prediction

The World Meteorological Organization has kick-started a major global effort to better predict changes to the Earth’s climate and deal with extreme weather and climatic events, such as flooding, drought, desertification and changing rainfall patterns. The effort is important for world agriculture, bioenergy production and many other socio-economic sectors.

WMO opened the first meeting of the International Organizing Committee of the World Climate Conference-3 (WCC-3) which convenes in Geneva in 2009. More than 20 organizations, including United Nations agencies, are participating in the three-day meeting to prepare for the milestone 2009 conference, with the theme: “Climate prediction for decision-making: focusing on seasonal to inter-annual time-scales taking into account multi-decadal prediction.”

The need for climate forecasts has been growing with the increased recognition of society’s vulnerability to climate variability and change. Climate prediction centres around the world currently produce global temperature and rain forecasts through use of powerful computer models.

But there is recognition that strengthening and coordinating these capabilities could optimize the global response to climate variability and change, and meet the needs of decision-makers for better climate predictions in major socio-economic sectors.
We can better help the planet respond to the threat of climate variability and change by improving forecasts of temperature and rainfall patterns, as well as other climatic parameters, and then effectively delivering this information to governments, businesses, farmers and end-users in many other sectors. Having access to short-, mid- and long-term rainfall and temperature forecasts makes it possible for better planning of crop growth, water use, energy production and in many other areas. - Michel Jarraud, WMO Secretary-General
WMO, with its 188 Members covering the globe and as a lead sponsor of the World Climate Research Programme, has the experience and strength to facilitate a mechanism to bring under one umbrella the climate forecast centres around the world. With their pooled expertise, the world will be better able to respond to global challenges created by climate variability and change, the WMO says:
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The ongoing meeting is working to prepare an agenda for a science and ministerial segment of the 2009 conference. WCC-3 aims to promote disaster risk reduction and better use of climate prediction for decision-making, thus making a major contribution to sustainable development. It also aims to bridge the gap between scientists and end-users of climate prediction data.

Historically, World Climate Conferences have been decisive events. The first, held in 1979, led to the establishment of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 1988. The second conference, in 1990, strengthened global efforts that resulted in the creation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992.

WMO is the United Nations' authoritative voice on weather, climate and water.

WMO: WMO Launches Drive to Mobilize Global Efforts in Climate Prediction - February 4, 2008.

WMO: World Climate Conference-3 2009 - Climate prediction for decision-making: focusing on seasonal to interannual time-scales.

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World's most efficient CHP station uses biomass: a look at Denmark's Avedore 2 multi-fuel plant

In September 1994, Denmark's Energy Agency approved plans for the construction of a highly efficient combined heat and power (CHP) plant, to be built by Energi E2 and Vattenfall. The 570MW Avedore 2 plant, situated on the coast just south of Copenhagen, was approved on the condition that its owner, SK Power, decommission three older coal-fired power plants to reduce net emissions of CO2 (10%), NOx (20%) and SO2 (30%). Avedore 2 was unique in its design because it was conceived as a multi-fuel plant from the start, capable of using natural gas, coal and biomass. In 1996, Denmark's government banned the use of coal. And so Avedore proved to be a safe bet, by switching entirely to biomass and gas. Today, renewable biomass is the plant's main fuel.

Flexibility and efficiency

The switch was helped by a spike in natural gas prices in the late 1990s. Originally, gas was expected to contribute 85% of Avedore 2's total fuel consumption in the main boiler. Rocketing gas prices favored biofuels, so in early 2001 biomass was decided upon for the main fuel source.

Avedore 2, inaugurated in 2002, made the green switch successfully and is now a set of superlatives: it is the world's largest biomass power plant as well as the cleanest and most efficient cogeneration power station. It meets the heating demands of 200,000 households and supplies electricity to over 1.3 million homes (Denmark has a population of 5.47 million). The green plant covers more than 20% of Eastern Denmark's needs - the most densely populated region of the country - and supplies 570MW of heat to Greater Copenhagen's district heating system. The combined heat and power efficiency comes in at a whopping 95%.

Today the impressive Avedore 2 station is owned by Dong Energy, Denmark's largest energy company, partly state owned and the result of a merger between Dong, Elsam, Energi E2, Nesa and the electrical departments of two major utilities.

The 44MWe biomass plant provides the baseload for the power station, while two 55MWe gas turbines work as a peak load facility, which means they are started up when there is additional demand for electricity - usually in the mornings and evenings. The 'heart' of the power station is the USC (Ultra Super Critical) facility which comprises a boiler, steam turbine, generator and flue gas cleaning plant (see cutaway, click to enlarge).

By increasing steam pressure and temperature to exceptionally high levels it ensures very efficient fuel use. This means Avedore 2 uses less fuel to generate one kilowatt-hour than older generators. It uses about 50% of the energy in the fuel to generate electricity compared with only 35% fuel utilisation in older units. Connecting all the systems together creates a synergy that means the total output is greater than all the individual parts. This is what makes the facility the most flexible and energy efficient CHP plant of its kind in the world.

Biomass supplies
The key to Avedore 2's clean power generation is its reliance on renewable biomass as a fuel. The high volumes of biofuels consumed helps the state owned energy company to comply with the Danish Parliament's Biomass Action Plan. This set a target of 1.2 million tonnes of straw and 0.2 million tonnes of wood chips to be burned annually. Half of the target must be met by eastern Denmark, and Avedore 2 alone accounts for more than a quarter. The Biomass Action Plan, approved already in 1993, puts the country on track to meet its EU obligations which call, in Denmark's case, for 30% of renewable energy by 2020. Denmark today already generates 17% of all its energy from renewables, making it one of the EU's green energy leaders. Avedore 2 significantly contributes to this achievement.

The biofuel at Avedore 2 comes in the form of straw bales and pellets, each contributing around half of the total amount of biomass burned in the station. Last year, Avedore 2 consumed 172,000 tonnes of straw bales, including hay from rape, cereals and ryegrass from 500 different farms in eastern Denmark. Every day, Avedore 2 handles 65 lorry-loads of 24 bales. Currently these loads weigh about 12 tonnes, but with the increased density from a new generation of efficient balers the payload is expected to increase by at least 20 percent, further improving the efficiency of the operation:
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The straw-fired biomass facility consists of a boiler, straw store, ash separator and a system for handling the bottom and fly ash. The straw store holds enough bales to run the plant for two to three days, with deliveries arriving from Monday until noon on Saturday, every week.

The whole biomass side of the plant - cranes, straw lines and feeding system - is designed exclusively to handle bale dimensions of 1.2m x 1.2m x 2.5m. According to Pernille Harder Andersen, information officer at the plant, the higher density and heavier packages made by the latest balers will be of great benefit to the operations, helping to further improve efficiency - simply because the straw lines will be able to handle more material. The bale size choice also reflects years of experience from farmers and contractors baling straw for industrial and other uses.

The plant will accept bales with moisture contents up to 24 percent and farms are expected to store them under cover until they are required. Bales are then transported to Avedore 2 on lorries stacked with 24 bales laid across the bed in two layers. On arrival, the trucks are unsheeted on a special gantry. Then the truck moves to the unloading area where the bales are weighed and ultra-sonic sensors are used to check the moisture content.

If the moisture content is within the parameters, the operator, sitting high up in a control room, uses an over-head crane to lift off each layer of 12 bales in one go. He then stacks the bales in the storage area in a particular pattern, which is critical because from now on all the handling is carried out automatically.

Two special straw 'tables' feed the bales onto four straw lines that convey the MF 'Hesston' bales into the process. First job is to remove the strings, which are cut and stripped off before the bale feeds into contra-rotating peg rollers that loosen the material before it is blown into the boiler.

According to Harder Andersen, it is actually very difficult to combust straw because its silicates are very corrosive. So it took quite a while to perfect the system and get it running as efficiently as it does today. The steam generated by the biomass boiler is directed to the central turbine, which makes much better use of the energy in the fuel compared with using a separate steam turbine.

Dong Energy is Denmark’s largest power generator, 73 percent state owned. The company produces more than 50% of Denmark’s power and approximately 40% of the district heating. It is also deeply involved in leading European liquid biofuel research, focusing on the utilization of biomass for the cogeneration of power, heat and liquid fuels (previous post).

EU: Denmark renewable energy country file, at Energy.eu.

ELSAM: Biomass to Power in Danish Power Plants [*.pdf].

Power Technology: Avedore multi-fuel power plant, Denmark.

Independent: MF fuels largest biomass boiler - February 5, 2008.

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Companies team up to develop gasification of glycerin for electricity

Cyclone Power Technologies Inc. announced today that Advent Power Systems, Inc., one of the company's licensees in the field of biomass based industrial syngas generators, has signed an agreement with Florida Syngas LLC to develop 10 one-megawatt combined cycle electric generators utilizing Cyclone's heat-regenerative, external combustion engine technology.

The companies' plans are to power these industrial generators using a glycerol-based synthesis gas produced through Florida Syngas' proprietary plasma gasification process called GlidArc. Glycerol (glycerin), the waste product of the biodiesel industry, yields a hydrogen-rich, carbon neutral gas with its only waste products being hot water and useable heat. Under the agreement, Florida Syngas will design and build the synthesis gas converters, and Advent Power Systems will develop the engines and generator sets utilizing Cyclone's patented engine technology. Development of the equipment will be co-located in both Grant and Coconut Creek, Florida.

Cyclone engine technology is a new type of external combustion engine but relies on established technologies, such as those used in gas turbines, diesel engines, and steam engines. The engine is based on the Schoell cycle, a cross between a Rankine, Diesel and Carnot cycle engine (schematic, click to enlarge). Its main characteristic is that it will burn any combustible fuel, including biomass and municipal waste. Advent Power Systems claims the engine has other advantages:
  • Clean burning – Provides complete combustion and a very clean exhaust
  • Efficiencies comparable to diesels, when all required subsystems are included
  • High horsepower to weight ratios – about a 2.5 to 1 advantage over full diesel systems.
  • Low noise, vibration, and infrared signatures.
  • Large range of sizes possible – from 1 KW up to over 1 Megawatt.
  • Facilitates conversion to a range of synthetic fuels, including biomass.
  • Provides an ideal power source for hybrid and conventional vehicles.
  • Does not require a radiator, water pump, oil pump, complex fuel injection, or catalytic converter, reducing cost, weight, space and increasing reliability.
Florida Syngas for its part developed proprietary and patented GlidArc technology that converts glycerol into a hydrogen-rich synthesis gas via plasma gasification. The gas can be used to fire directly any industrial load and can be used as a source of fuel to power microturbines to create electrical energy.

Glycerin glut

The exponential growth of biodiesel production contributes to a growing glycerol supply. There is already a global glut of this compound available. According to recent research, 2006 saw a production of five million tons, a 54% rise from the previous year. It is believed that output will continue on this trend, with a yearly production of 10 million tons of biodiesel expected by 2010 and therefore around a million tons of extra glycerin (previuos post).

Many researchers and companies are therefor looking to use this surplus optimally and profitably as a feedstock for other products. Some are focusing on the production of other biofuels such as biohydrogen, ethanol, or biogas. Still others have found cost-effective applications for new types of biopolymers, bioplastic films, and green specialty chemicals such as propylene glycol. Finally, some researchers have found glycerin makes for a suitable cattle and poultry feed:
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Florida Syngas and Cyclone Power technologies see an opportunity to use glycerine for the production of electricity. The parties anticipate that the potential for systems combining the GlidArc and Cyclone technologies to generate power and heat is in the multi-billion dollar range over the next decade. With the backing of several government funding sources, Dr. Myers stated that he hopes to have a demonstration project under accelerated development later this year.
Using the GlidArc technology they [Florida Syngas] have developed, we can convert an abundant and cheap by-product of bio-diesel production into a valuable non-polluting fuel that will ultimately be burned in a Cyclone engine to produce electricity and heat. - Dr. Phillip F. Myers, President of Advent Power Systems.
"There is a natural synergy between these two technologies," confirms John P. Sessa, President of Florida Syngas. "Our GlidArc Synthesis Gas reactor is a logical fit with the Cyclone Engine as a prime mover." According to Mr. Sessa, glycerol is the waste (or co-product) of the bio-diesel refining industry, and as that industry has begun to ramp-up, so has the surplus of glycerol. An engine fueled by this synthesis gas would also have the advantage of being carbon neutral, giving operators a keen leg-up with respect to impending carbon "Cap and Trade" legislation.


MarketWire: Cyclone Power Technologies' Licensee Signs Agreement to Develop Biogas Generators - February 5, 2008.

Cyclone Power Technologies: The Cyclone Engine Empowers the Biofuels Revolution [*.pdf].

Biopact: Large glycerin surplus from the production of biodiesel seen by 2010 - November 05, 2007

Biopact: Leeds researchers produce biohydrogen from biodiesel byproduct glycerol - November 27, 2007

Biopact: Scientists convert biodiesel byproduct glycerin into ethanol - November 04, 2007

Biopact: The bioeconomy at work: Dow develops propylene glycol from biodiesel residue - March 19, 2007

Biopact: Students patent biopolymer made from biodiesel and wine byproducts - June 20, 2007

Biopact: Researchers make biodegradable films from biofuel and dairy byproducts - June 11, 2007

Biopact: Researchers study effectiveness of glycerin as cattle feed - May 25, 2007

Biopact: Biodiesel byproduct glycerine makes excellent chicken food - August 04, 2006

Biopact: Glycerin as a biogas feedstock - December 27, 2006

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China and Brazil cooperate on newly discovered sweet cassava for ethanol

The state-owned Brazilian Agricultural Research Enterprise (EMBRAPA) and biotech researchers from the Chinese Academy of Tropical Agricultural Sciences (CATAS) have launched a cooperation program to research the use of a recently discovered type of cassava for biofuels. Brazilian scientists have a large manioc germplasm bank in which sweet cassava mutants can be found that are highly suitable for ethanol production. Under the collaboration, China offers its rapid genome sequencing capacities to Brazil for further research into the new crop. The People's Republic's scientists indicated the country is thinking of switching from ordinary cassava - which is rich in starch - to the new and more easily convertible sugar varieties instead.

EMBRAPA met with a Chinese science delegation at its headquarters in Brasilia last month, to kick off the technical cooperation between the two countries' leading tropical agriculture research institutions. The program is headed by two EMBRAPA units: Genetic Resources and Biotechnology - Pastures (Planaltina – DF); and Agroenergia e Mandioca e Fruticultura Tropical (Bioenergy from Manioc and Tropical Fruticulture). The Chinese committee visited EMBRAPA Mandioca e Fruticultura, in Cruz das Almas, in Bahia state, as well as EMBRAPA Pastures' manioc germplasm bank which contains a collection of 500 representative cassava accessions.

The technical cooperation is aimed at exploring the development of hybrid sweet cassava that grows well in open pastures, and in poor and acid soils, is pest and disease-tolerant and is optimised for sugar production, explains EMBRAPA Genetic Resources and Biotechnology researcher Luiz Joaquim Castelo Branco Carvalho. In 1996, the researcher and his team identified natural cassava mutants rich in glucose in the Amazon. After fundamental genetic and biochemical research the researchers now conclude that this type of sweet cassava has great potential for fermentation into alcohol.

Cassava improvement programs in Brazil have so far focused on the production of flour and starch. The new varieties of sweet cassava can diversify the market for the crop and open new markets, says Carvalho. One of these markets is alcohol production, because the glucose-rich cassava allows for the direct conversion of the roots' sugars into ethanol. This fact contrasts with the conventional process in which starchy cassava tubers first need to undergo a hydrolysis treatment. The sweet cassava variety skips this step.

China currently cultivates around half a million hectares of cassava, of which 200,000 are destined for ethanol production. The People's Republic chose cassava as one of its future biofuels crops, because it is considered to be an industrial plant, and not a food crop. According to Wenquan Wang, researcher at CATAS, cassava has gained importance because of its low environmental footprint and because it has a well established industrial presence. "For 30 years, cassava was a staple for many Chinese people, later it became a crop for animal feed, and nowadays 60% of the entire harvest is destined for the industrial production of starch, 20% goes to ethanol and the remainder is turned into pig feed."

However, China's cassava ethanol initiative is mainly based on starch rich varieties. Together with Brazil it is now looking at introducing the sweet varieties instead, which demand less costly and complicated conversion steps.

Since 1996 Carvalho and his team have achieved significant research results: they identified the genes and processes involved in the mutation that led to the emergence of the sugar-rich cassava plant. With this information, concrete applications become possible.

Currently, the genetic characteristics of the sweet root crop are being transferred to commercial cassava varieties via conventional breeding techniques. This research in turn is used by EMBRAPA scientist for genomic studies and to deepen the knowledge about the metabolic processes at work in the sugar-rich plant.

It is these results which interested the CATAS and which called for a cooperation to speed up the development of sweet cassava dedicated to ethanol production. For the Brazilian side, the technical partnership with China will advance the sequencing of the genome of the cassava varieties. Both EMBRAPA Genetic Resources Biotechnology - Pastures, and EMBRAPA proper have already started this genome sequencing project, but China has rapid and mass sequencing capacities which allow for much faster analyses of the genomes found in the mutants:
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Commenting on the Chinese delegation's visit to the cassava germplasm bank, Eduardo Alano Vieira, researcher at EMBRAPA Pastures, said that "It is an active bank, with new accessions being added continuously".

Researchers at EMBRAPA Pastures are zooming in on another particular type of cassava, rich in betacarotene (red cassava), of which eight varieties are being researched. Alano says the plants are interesting from a nutritional perspective and have characteristics that could be embedded into the sweet variant for ethanol. On the basis of these varieties, he is developing a crop that allows the producer to plant a productive, suitable material that is tolerant to aluminum toxicity (which affects a very large number of soils throughout the tropics and the subtropics), and which is disease tolerant.

When it comes to the sweet cassava for ethanol, the goal is to couple high productivity to a root crop with a thin skin, which facilitates processing.

First breeding and planting experiments show promising results: over the past year, 100 individuals were obtained from crossing IAC 12, which grows well on open pastures, with the sugar varieties found in the Amazon. Sugar yields were encouraging and the hybrids adapted well to the conditions in the open pasture.

EMBRAPA stresses that the cooperation agreement with China is established in full accordance with the rules found in the Brazilian laws dealing with access to and distribution of geneting resources and biodiversity benefits.

Translated by Laurens Rademakers

EMBRAPA: Brasil e China discutem produção de álcool a partir da mandioca - January 25, 2008.

EMBRAPA: Pesquisadores chineses conhecem tecnologias geradas pela pesquisa com mandioca - January 28, 2008.

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Proposed U.S. energy budget for 2009 boosts funding for coal, nuclear, biomass programs; reduces H2, solar and vehicle technology

U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman announced President Bush’s $25 (€17) billion 2009 budget request for the Department of Energy (DOE), an increase of $1.073 billion (3.2%) over the 2008 appropriation.

The proposed budget significantly boosts spending on coal and nuclear technologies and the DOE Science program, with a smaller increase for biomass and biorefinery R&D. However, funding within the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) program is cut by 28%, down to US$1.256 billion, with the reductions coming mainly from funding for hydrogen technology, solar energy, vehicle technologies, facilities and infrastructure, and the weatherization program.

Coal and carbon capture - Overall, the Fossil Energy Research and Development program’s funding jumps 25% to US$997 million, the bulk of that coming from the President’s coal research initiative, which increases is funding by 41% to US$818 million.

The budget allocates $400 million to research and $241 million to demonstrate technologies for cost-effective carbon capture and storage for coal-fired power plants through a restructured carbon capture and storage program (a lower-cost version of the FutureGen program, which was recently abandoned).

Nuclear - The budget promotes licensing of new nuclear plants and researches an advanced nuclear fuel cycle. $242 million is allocated for Nuclear Power 2010, an industry cost-shared effort to bring new nuclear plant technologies to market and demonstrate streamlined regulatory processes. $302 million focuses the Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative on innovative transmutation and separations research and development.

Science & next-gen biofuels - The overall Science budget increases 18% to $4.7 billion, with increases in all major program activities. The Biological and Environmental Research (BER) program within the Science budget funding increases 13.6% to $568 million.

BER funds research in global climate change; environmental remediation; molecular, cellular, and systemic studies on the biological effects of radiation; structural biology; radiochemisty and instrumentation; and DNA sequencing. The program also supports science related to carbon sequestration.

The program works in conjunction with the advanced scientific computing research program to accelerate progress in coupled general circulation model development through use of enhanced computer simulation and modeling.

This program includes the Genomics: GTL activity that is developing the science, technology, and knowledge base to harness microbial and plant systems for cost-effective bioenergy production (including biohydrogen), carbon sequestration, and environmental remediation. The request includes $75 million for Genomics: GTL Bioenergy Research Centers. Research at the Centers will focus on developing the science underpinning biofuel.

Bioenergy and Biorefinery R&D
- Funding for this program which is part of the EERE activities, increases 8% to $225 million. This program funds research, development, and technology validation on advanced technologies that could enable future biorefineries to sustainably and economically convert cellulosic biomass to fuels, chemical, heat, and power. The program’s goal is to help make cellulosic ethanol cost competitive by 2012 using a wide array of regionally available biomass sources:
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Hydrogen technology - Funding for the EERE hydrogen technology program drops 31% in the 09 Budget to $146 million. The hydrogen technology program is tasked with developing hydrogen production, storage, and delivery and fuel cell technologies. Current research aims to enable industry to commercialize a hydrogen infrastructure and fuel cell vehicles by 2020.

Solar - Funding for the Solar America Initiative via EERE is cut 7.1% to $156 million in the 09 Budget.

Vehicle Technologies
- Funding for the EERE Vehicle Technologies program is cut a slight 0.9% to $221 million. The Vehicle Technologies program supports the FreedomCAR and Fuel Partnership and the 21st Century Truck Partnership with industry. Program activities encompass a suite of technologies needed for hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and fuel cell vehicles, including lightweight materials, electronic power control and electric drive motors, and advanced energy storage devices.

This program also supports research to improve the efficiency of advanced combustion engines, using fuels with formulations developed for such engines, and incorporating non-petroleum based components.

The program further includes community-based outreach via Clean Cities coalitions, competitive awards, and other activities to facilitate the market adoption of alternative fuels and highly efficient automotive technologies.

American Competitiveness Initiative - The Department’s FY 2009 budget request of $4.7 billion for the President’s ACI, approximately US$748.8 million above the FY 2008 appropriation, will increase basic research in the physical sciences that will have broad impacts on future energy technologies and environmental solutions. ACI funding will also continue to support the construction and operation of scientific facilities and will support thousands of scientists and students, which are seen as essential for the U.S. to maintain its scientific leadership and global competitiveness.

U.S. Department of Energy: President Bush Requests $25 Billion for U.S. Department of Energy’s FY 2009 Budget - February 4, 2008.

Office of Management and Budget: Department of Energy 2009 Budget.

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Scientists sequence genome of bacterium that uses near infrared light for photosynthesis; could lead to creation of "super plants"

An international team of scientists has sequenced the genome of a rare bacterium that harvests light energy by making an even rarer form of chlorophyll, chlorophyll d. Chlorophyll d absorbs "red edge", near infrared, long wave length light, invisible to the naked eye. The scientists think that if the genes responsible for this unique capacity were to be embedded into genetically altered higher plants, they could become super solar energy factories with a greatly improved photosynthetic efficiency - which would have "immense agricultural consequences". Findings are published in the Feb. 4, online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Boosting plants' photosynthetic efficiency is one of the most exciting research foci in biotechnology and bioenergy, because there is great room for improvement: plants currently convert only around 0.3 to 0.5% of incoming sunlight into energy, but in theory this can be doubled several times. The consequences of such an intervention would obviously be enormous. Some scenarios show that breakthroughs in this field could make biomass and biofuels virtually 'endless' sources of green energy.
The extension of Chl d absorption into the near infrared, beyond the range of any other oxygenic photosynthetic organisms, could have immense agricultural consequences. If Chl d could be incorporated into higher plants, it has a potential capacity of increasing the energy conversion of sunlight by 5% compared to that of the Chl a-containing organisms. - Phototrophic Prokaryotic Sequencing Project
Plants that harvest near infrared light would be quite futuristic and give them a bit of a cosmic feel. It is no coincidence that when astrobiologists, like the lead author of the paper, imagine what plants would look like on other planets, they point at this capacity of harvesting non-visible, near infrared and full infrared light (weirder types of photosynthesis with black plants are thinkable too). Dr Robert Blankenship of Washington University is part of a NASA working group based at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory called the Virtual Plant Laboratory. He and his colleagues are studying light that comes from stars and extrasolar planets to infer the composition of the atmosphere of exoplanets. At times they use their knowledge and imagination to guesstimate the properties of potential plant life in such other worlds. Now they see a glimpse of this bizarre universe, here on Earth, in the form of a bizarre bacterium.

By absorbing near infrared light, the cyanobacterium Acaryochloris marina - which was only recently discovered and lives symbiotically under the belly of a type of sea squirt in the Great Barrier Reef -, competes with virtually no other plant or bacterium in the world for sunlight. As a result, its genome is massive for a cyanobacterium, comprising 8.3 million base pairs, and sophisticated. The genome is among the very largest of 55 cyanobacterial strains in the world sequenced thus far, and it is the first chlorophyll d - containing organism to be sequenced.

Dr Blankenship, who is the Lucille P. Markey Distinguished Professor in Arts & Sciences and principal investigator of the project, said with every gene of Acaryochloris marina now sequenced and annotated, the immediate goal is to find the enzyme that causes a chemical structure change in chlorophyll d, making it different from primarily chlorophyll a, and b, but also from about nine other forms of chlorophyll.
The synthesis of chlorophyll by an organism is complex, involving 17 different steps in all. Some place near the end of this process an enzyme transforms a vinyl group to a formyl group to make chlorophyll d. This transformation of chemical forms is not known in any other chlorophyll molecules. - Dr Robert Blankenship
Blankenship said he and his collaborators have some candidate genes they will test. They hope to insert these genes into an organism that makes just chlorophyll a. If the organism learns to synthesize chlorophyll d with one of the genes, the mystery of chlorophyll d synthesis will be solved, and then the excitement will begin.

Blankenship and his colleagues from Washington, Arizona State University, and scientists from Australia and Japan received support from the National Science Foundation. Three Washington University undergraduate students and one graduate student participated in the project, as well as other research personnel.
Harvesting solar power through plants or other organisms that would be genetically altered with the chlorophyll d gene could make them solar power factories that generate and store solar energy.
'Super plants'
Consider a seven-foot tall corn plant genetically tailored with the chlorophyll d gene to be expressed at the very base of the stalk, the researchers ask. While the rest of the plant synthesized chlorophyll a, absorbing short wave light, the base is absorbing "red edge" light in the 710 nanometer range. Energy could be stored in the base without competing with any other part of the plant for photosynthesis, as the rest only makes chlorophyll a. The altered corn using the chlorophyll d gene would become a "super plant" because of its enhanced ability to harness energy from the sun, the scientist say:
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That model is similar to how Acaryochloris marina actually operates in the South Pacific, specifically Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Discovered just 11 years ago, the cyanobacterium lives in a symbiotic relationship with a sponge-like marine animal popularly called a sea squirt . The Acaryochloris marina lives beneath the sea squirt, which is a marine animal that lives attached to rocks just below the surface of the water. The cyanobacterium absorbs "red edge" light through the tissues of its pal the sea squirt.

The genome, said Blankenship, is "fat and happy".
Acaryochloris marina lies down there using that far red light that no one else can use. The organism has never been under very strong selection pressure to be lean and mean like other bacteria are. It's kind of in a sweet spot. Living in this environment is what allowed it to have such dramatic genome expansion. - Dr Robert Blankenship
Blankenship said that once the gene that causes the late-step chemical transformation is found and inserted successfully into other plants or organisms, that it could potentially represent a five percent increase in available light for organisms to use.

"We now have genetic information on a unique organism that makes this type of pigment that no other organism does," Blankenship added. "We don't know what all the genes do by any means. But we�ve just begun the analysis. When we find the chlorophyll d enzyme and then look into transferring it into other organisms, we'll be working to extend the range of potentially useful photosynthesis radiation."

Many plant biologists, biotechnologists and bioenergy experts think improving the photosynthetic efficiency of energy crops could be part of a hyper-efficient bioeconomy of the future. Currently, most plants have a convert only between 0.3 and 0.5 percent of the incoming sunlight into energy. But theoretically it is possible to increase this tenfold.

Many projections about the global bioenergy potential are based on the status quo - agriculture and technology as it is today. They do not take biotechnological breakthroughs into account even though they are being made frequently. This is so because (the effects of such) breakthroughs cannot be projected or predicted. But most of the researchers who have assessed the long term potential for bioenergy almost all agree: in a scenario of a highly improved photosynthetic efficiency of plants, the entire energy game would be altered radically, and biofuels and biomass would become virtually endless sources of energy.

Picture of Acaryochloris marina, credit: Phototrophic Prokaryotic Sequencing Project.

[PNAS article not yet available at the time of writing].

Eurekalert: Bacterium sequenced makes rare form of chlorophyll - Living on "the red edge" - February 4, 2008.

Eurekalert: Scientists ponder plant life on extrasolar Earthlike planets - June 7, 2007.

Scott R. Miller, Sunny Augustine, Tien Le Olson, Robert E. Blankenship, Jeanne Selker, and A. Michelle Wood, "Discovery of a free-living chlorophyll d-producing cyanobacterium with a hybrid proteobacterial/cyanobacterial small-subunit rRNA gene", PNAS 2005 102: 850-855; published online before print as 10.1073/pnas.0405667102

Phototrophic Prokaryotic Sequencing Project: Cyanobacteria: Acaryochloris marina.

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Researchers find large potential for cost-effective biohydrogen production from palm oil waste

A few years ago, we referred to the large potential for the production of bioproducts and next-generation biofuels from the waste biomass that accumulates at palm oil plantations and mills. The palm oil tree is one of the most productive plants on the planet. Currently only the oil in its fruit and kernels is used for commercial purposes. However, this resource constitutes only a tiny fraction (less than 10%) of the total amount biomass that is generated on a plantation - the rest is burned or dumped into the environment as waste.

A group of researchers from the Universiti Sains Malaysia now finds that this vast stream of waste biomass holds a considerable potential for the efficient and cost-competitive production of renewable biohydrogen via a process known as supercritical water gasification (SCWG) - of growing interest to bioenergy researchers. The process yields hydrogen twenty times less costly than H2 from electrolysis of water when the primary energy comes from renewables like wind or solar, and one fifth less costly than H2 obtained from steam reforming natural gas - the most likely candidate for large scale hydrogen production in the future. The chemical and energetic properties of the residual palm biomass, especially its high moisture content, make it a 'perfect' feedstock for the novel gasification process. The energy balance ('EROEI') of the biohydrogen was found to be 9.9, indicating a highly efficient use of the resource. The researchers discuss their findings in a recent issue of the scientific journal Energy Policy.

There is no denying that today's palm oil based biofuels come with their share of problems. They could drive deforestation and when only the oil is used, the fuels could in fact generate more GHG emissions than conventional fossil fuels, because of the emissions resulting from land use change (palm oil biofuel produced from plantations that were established on non-forest land do cut emissions, though). The coproduction of biohydrogen would improve both the greenhouse gas profile of these first generation biofuels as well as their energy balance. Profitable utilization of the residues would also limit the need for further expansion of the palm oil acreage.

Environmental sustainability criteria such as those proposed by the European Commission must ensure that negative land-use effects are minimized. One way of doing so is by converting residual biomass into green energy and thus getting more out of a hectare of land. Depending on which energy product is coproduced, this practise can considerably improve the emissions profile of (first generation) palm oil based biofuels. Both Indonesia and Malaysia, the world's largest palm oil producers, have understood this message and are concentrating on finding ways to use the large amount of residual biomass efficiently and profitably.

Residues and utilization pathways
Besides a small amount of palm oil (around 5 tonnes per hectare), a plantation produces fronds, leaves, trunks, press fibers, empty fruit bunches (EFB), kernel shells and processing waste such as palm oil mill effluent (POME). This biomass generally consists of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin, but composition varies according to plant species. The composition of some of the most common residues, as well as their tonnage per hectare, is outlined in table 1 (click to enlarge).

Several utilization pathways for these residues have been analysed, with some being used increasingly by plantations and mills. One of the most straightforward ones consists of using the residual biomass as a fuel source to power palm oil processing plants - the fuel replaces coal or natural gas, and because of its abundance a palm oil plant would feed excess green electricity into the grid - a practise similar to that found in Brazil's sugar and ethanol processing plants which use bagasse to power their own operations as well as nearby towns. Several palm oil plants have opted for this pathway. However, the high moisture content of the biomass makes alternative uses more energy efficient.

Bioproducts such as bioplastics and fibre products can be produced from several types of non-oil palm biomass. The utilization of lignocellulosic biomass for the production of liquid fuels - via gasification and Fischer-Tropsch synthesis (biomass-to-liquids), pyrolysis or biochemical transformation - is another possibility. One particularly environmentally damaging waste stream - Palm Oil Mill Effluent (POME) - is now being transformed into biogas more and more often. Several of these projects are part of the Clean Development Mechanism.

Tau Len Kelly-Yong, Keat Teong Lee, Abdul Rahman Mohamed and Subhash Bhatia from the School of Chemical Engineering at the Universiti Sains Malaysia now suggest a more futuristic and efficient pathway: using the large biomass resource as a feedstock for the production of renewable biohydrogen.

Biohydrogen is a fully decarbonised energy carrier, it contains no carbon. This implies that the CO2 released during its production can be captured and sequestered. When such carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies are coupled to biohydrogen production, a carbon-negative fuel is obtained. The net emissions from first generation biofuel (e.g. palm oil biodiesel) and second-generation biofuels (e.g. hydrotreated palm oil biodiesel) would be offset by this coproduced carbon-negative biohydrogen.

This is why Kelly-Yong's research is so interesting. It points to a possible future in which palm oil plantations - provided they are not based on deforested land - would generate "negative emissions". That is, the energy they generate would actively remove historic CO2 from the atmosphere (unlike other renewables, which are merely carbon-neutral and do not add new CO2 to the atmosphere). 'Carbon-neutralised' liquid fuels would be available for export, whereas decarbonized, carbon-negative biohydrogen would be used locally either in electricity production or as a transport fuel. The overall carbon emissions balance of all energy thus generated would be negative.

The potential
The Malaysian team looked at the availability of palm residues on a global scale. They found that the destination of this huge amount of biomass is raising concerns. The supply of oil palm biomass and its processing byproducts were found to be no less than 7 times the availability of natural timber globally. Every year, the oil palm industry generates more than one 184.6 million tonnes of residues worldwide (graph, click to enlarge):
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After outlining the complications of current bioconversion pathways used on this biomass, Kelly-Yong and collegues say the urgent need for transforming this residue into a more-valuable end product can be met by converting it into biohydrogen via gasification using supercritical water reaction technology. Oil palm biomass is "the perfect candidate as feedstock for the gasification process", they write.

The feedstock has a high energy and moisture content (450%), which is an integral requirement for reactions in SCW reaction and for the generation of renewable energy. The insignificant amount of trace minerals in the biomass composition is another advantage for the reaction. Furthermore, the availability of oil palm biomass all over the year allows continuous operation of the process.

Supercritical water gasification

Supercritical water gasification (SCWG) is a relatively novel gasification method, in which biomass is transformed into a hydrogen-rich gas by introducing it in supercritical water (SCW) (schematic, click to enlarge). SCW is obtained at pressure above 221 bar and temperatures above 374 °C. By treatment of biomass in supercritical water - but in the absence of added oxidants - organics are converted into fuel gases and are easily separated from the water phase by cooling to ambient temperature. The produced high pressure gas is very rich in hydrogen.

Characteristic of the SCW-organics interactions is a gradually changing involvement of water with the temperature. With temperature increasing to 600 °C water becomes a strong oxidant and results in complete desintegration of the substrate structure by transfer of oxygen from water to the carbon atoms of the substrate. As a result of the high density carbon is preferentially oxidized into CO2 but also low concentrations of CO are formed. The hydrogen atoms of water and of the substrate are set free and form H2.

The SCW process consists of a number of unit operation as feed pumping, heat exchanging, reactor, gas-liquid separators and if desired product upgrading. The reactor operating temperature is typically between 600 and 650 oC; the operating pressure is around 300 bar. A residence time of ½ up to 2 minutes is required to achieve complete carbon conversion depending on the feedstock. Heat exchange between the inlet and outlet streams from the reactor is essential for the process to achieve high thermal efficiencies. process overview of biomass gasification in supercritical water The two-phase product stream is separated in a high-pressure gas-liquid separator (T = 25 - 300 °C).

Due to these conditions significant part of the CO2 remains in the water phase. Possible contaminants like H2S, NH3 and HCl are even more likely to be captured in the water phase due to their higher solubility, and in fact in-situ gas cleaning is obtained. The gas stream from the HP separator contains mainly the H2, CO and CH4 and part of the CO2. In a low pressure separator a second gas stream is produced containing relative large amounts of CO2, but also some combustibles. This gas can e.g. be used for internal heating purposes.

The SCW process is in particular suitable for the conversion of wet organic materials (moisture content 70 - 95%) which can be renewable or non-renewable.

The primary gas produced by the SCW process differs significantly from most other biomass gasifiers: gas is produced at very high pressure, hydrogen content is high, no dilution by nitrogen.

The produced gas is clean (no tar, or other contaminants in high pressure gas even if produced in the process) and it always contains high amounts of hydrogen; the amounts of CO and CH4 depend on the operating conditions. Complete carbon conversion is achieved after relative short residence time, and significant amounts of CO are found, whereas methane content is still low. For long residence times gas equilibrium has been established and CO is almost completely absent, but methane content is significantly increased.

Water plays various roles in facilitating the gasification reaction, due to its unique ability and properties. The hot compressed water molecules can participate in various elementary reaction steps as reactant, catalyst and medium.

In the gasification reaction, the biomass under severe conditions is instantaneously decomposed into small molecules of gases in few minutes, at a high efficiency rate. A gaseous mixture of hydrogen, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane and other compounds is obtained from the reaction (Ni et al., 2006). The chemistry of the reaction during the gasification under the influence of SCW and pressure is often cited as complicated and complex as it involves multiple reactions that occur simultaneously to produce the gaseous and liquid mixture.

However, 3 main reactions are identified: (1) steam reforming, (2) methanation and (3) water–gas shift reactions (Hao et al., 2003). The reactions are identified as follows :

Biomass + H2O -> H2 + CO; (1)
CO + H2O -> CO2 + H2; (2)
CO + 3H2 -> CH4 + H2O: (3)

In reaction (1), the biomass reacts with water at its supercritical condition in the steam-reforming reaction to produce gaseous mixtures of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Subsequently, the carbon monoxide produced from the first reaction will undergo an inorganic chemical reaction termed as water–gas shift reaction with water to produce more carbon dioxide and hydrogen as shown in reaction (2). It is possible that the carbon monoxide produced from reaction (1) between water and biomass caused the equilibrium of the water–gas shift reaction to shift to the right, ultimately producing more hydrogen in the end product. In the last reaction, methanation will occur where the carbon monoxide will react with hydrogen in the earlier reaction to obtain methane and water as its end product.

The utilization of SCW medium in biomass gasification has several advantages. It can directly deal with high moisture content biomass. Therefore, preliminary treatment such as biomass drying can be avoided, advantageously preventing the high cost related to that process.

Hydrogen production via SCW technology represents a potential source of renewable energy for the future. It is estimated that the cost of hydrogen production via SCW gasification ranges between US $3–7 per GJ or US$ 0.35 per kg, as compared with the most obvious current method - stream reforming of natural gas - the cost of which averages between US $5–8/GJ.

However, the exact costs are expected to differ slightly for different kinds of biomass depending on its origins. In comparison with other conventional and alternative processes for hydrogen production, SCW gasification of biomass is by far the most cost-efficient method to produce hydrogen (figure, click to enlarge). Comprehensive studies have been carried out with great success on this technology, utilizing biomass sources such as corn starch, clover grass, wood dust, organic waste, industrial waste, etc. The results show a high percentage of hydrogen in the end product and very little
production of residues.

Efficiency and energy balance

Kelly-Yong and his collegues analysed the energy efficiency of the gasification reaction when based on palm oil biomass, the efficiency of pure hydrogen production, and the energy balance taking into account all energy inputs for a palm plantation.

Gasification efficiency

In order to calculate the energy efficiency of the gasification reaction, researchers have taken the following definition: the sum of external energy of the desired products divided by the total process inputs. However, for such an analysis often only hydrogen is taken into account as the desired output, without considering other end products.

For their part, the Malaysian researchers defined the desired end product as a mixture of hydrogen, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and also methane. Besides the chemical energy of the mixture gases, it is also vital to include heat recovery into the calculation since it contributes significantly to the efficiency of the reaction.

Comprehensive heat recovery unit can increase the percentage of efficiency of about 10–25% higher compared to those without a recovery unit. In the gasification reaction, heat can be recovered from the energy released from product, and from the the heat of the reaction.

Therefore, Kelly-Yong and collegues define the energy efficiency as the ratio of total chemical energy from products (hydrogen, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and methane) plus the heat released (product and reaction) to the overall chemical
energy contained in the feedstock (biomass and water) plus the energy required for heating of the biomass, in the reaction. For this reaction, it is assumed that process heat is provided by wood combustion with an efficiency of 75%.

With these parameters, the theoretical energy efficiency of the gasification reaction of oil palm biomass, without heat recovery, is around 46.54%. With heat recovery, the energy efficiency is about 72.91%. The real energy efficiency percentages are estimated to be about 10–25% lower than these thermodynamic values.

Pure hydrogen efficiency

The pure hydrogen production efficiency in the gasification reaction is an important parameter that must be accurately studied, the researchers say. There are several methods to determine the magnitude of this efficiency. They chose to consider the lower heating value of input and outputs. Hydrogen efficiency is then defined as the ratio of hydrogen output to the biomass input plus external energy minus energy recovered, as presented.

The maximum theoretical pure hydrogen production efficiency was found to be 34.93% without heat recovery and 57.96% with heat recovery. Real values about 10–25% lower than the thermodynamic values.

Energy balance
The evaluation of the final energy balance (energy inputs versus energy outputs, 'EROEI') for oil palm biomass is also an important parameter. The total energy input needed to obtain the biomass feedstock is estimated (by others) to be 19.2 GJ per hectare per year for an oil palm plantation (seed to processing plant). The gasification of oil palm biomass produces a total energy output of 190.96 GJ per hectare per year. Thus, an EROEI of 9.9 is found.

For the researchers This high ratio is another evidence of the viability of the reaction in transforming the high-energy biomass into higher energy end product.

Hydrogen production potential

After these analyses, the researchers calculated the total potential of biomass waste streams used in large-scale applications of the SCWG technology. Even though this technology requires improvements in energy recovery and the optimization of various parameters to ensure that the reaction is well controlled and is able to reach its maximum conversion, it is already capable of yielding positive energy efficiencies.

To calculate the real potential, the hydrogen percentage in the end product gas mixtures is taken to be 61.29%, and the theoretical maximum yield of hydrogen is about 0.117 kgH2 per kg of biomass. With world oil palm biomass production annually standing at about 184.6 million tons, and taking a 100 and 50% conversion efficiency, between 21.6 and 10.8 million tonnes of hydrogen can be produced every year, respectively.

Currently in 2006, world hydrogen production is estimated to be at about 50 million tonnes and growing at 10% per year. With the inclusion of hydrogen produced from oil palm biomass, world hydrogen production can be increased by up to 43.2% yearly. The increasing expansion of the oil palm plantation acreage in most of the countries where it is cultivated may provide a large source of biomass for hydrogen production.

: empty fruit bunches, one of the residues of palm oil processing.

Biopact wishes to thank co-author Keat Teong Lee for additional information.


Tau Len Kelly-Yong, Keat Teong Lee, Abdul Rahman Mohamed, Subhash Bhatia, "Potential of hydrogen from oil palm biomass as a source of renewable energy worldwide", Energy Policy 35 (2007) 5692–5701, 7 August 2007

K.T. Tan, K.T. Lee, A.R. Mohamed, S. Bhatia, "Palm oil: Addressing issues and towards sustainable development", Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, in press.

Biopact: And the world's most productive ethanol crop is... oil palm - June 21, 2006

On Supercritical Water Gasification, see:

EU sponsored project: SuperH2: Biomass and Waste Conversion in Supercritical Water for the Production of Renewable Hydrogen.

Biomass Technology Group: Biomass gasification in supercritical water.

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CEZ boosts electricity production from biomass, up 52 percent in 2007

CEZ, Central and Eastern Europe's largest power producer, boosted its production of electricity from burning biomass to 249 gigawatt hours (GWh) in 2007, up from 163 GWh a year ago (an increase of 52 per cent). Biomass has become the Czech group's second most important renewable source after hydro-powered plants, and the fastest growing segment. Wind (0.1GWh in 2006) and solar (0.07GWh in 2006) have stagnated over the past years and make up a minimal fraction of CEZ's portfolio, which also includes nuclear power. In the Czech Republic biomass is seen as the renewable with the largest potential to meet the EU's renewables target.

In the first three quarters of 2007, CEZ produced 65.1 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity of which 1.2 TWh came from renewable sources, the bulk from hydropower and bioenergy.

The Czech company is investing heavily in biomass because it is the most competitive renewable with which the EU's renewables targets can be met. The energy group however warned that the EU's recent draft on renewable energy and greenhouse gas reductions could increase power generation costs by an estimated 50 percent by 2013.

It is uncertain how much of that cost CEZ will be able to pass on to consumers, but analysts predict the higher outgoings could stunt investments in new capacity, putting further upward pressure on electricity prices.

The European Commission last month announced a climate action and renewable energy package aimed at cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020. It also set an EU-wide target for renewables to rise to 20 percent of the energy mix by that time, with an individual figure of 13 percent for the Czech Republic.

The Czech government announced it hopes to meet the criteria by stimulating the development of additional hydroelectric and biomass power plants. When it comes to renewable energy production, the Czech Republic currently sits in the middle of the pack of EU member states, with 9.4% of final energy consumption coming from green sources.

The commission further unveiled its proposals for the 2013-2020 phase of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, under which the power sector will have to pay fully for carbon credits. Analysts said this will have the largest impact on CEZ going ahead. If CO2 credits go to full auctioning, then that CO2 cost will find its way into the power price immediately, said Bram Buring, analyst at Wood & Co.

CEZ, which has a market share of around 70 percent in the Czech Republic, has been allocated 34.3 million credits per year for the current trading period ending in 2012. Many analysts are still working out the likely financial impact of the EU proposals on the Czech power producer. But Josef Nemy, an analyst with Komercni Banka, forecasted generation costs could rise as much as 33.5 bln crowns, or around 500 crowns per megawatt hour of electricity produced, if CEZ has to pay for all its allowances. CEZ currently produces one MWh at a cost of around 1,000 crowns on average.

The increase in electricity prices is expected to be smaller than the increase in costs per MWh because the additional cost will be spread between consumers and producers. The overall impact on utilities, including CEZ, would thus be negative. Generation costs for CEZ could come under further strain as the group builds up capacity for renewable sources. The company, which has set aside 30 bln crowns for investment into renewables, admitted the EU proposals will mean "a significant and very costly increase in production of electricity from renewable sources."

Petr Novak, an analyst in Atlantik FT, said CEZ will likely need to invest more in biomass to meet the targets. But biomass is currently limited by a weak supply chain The total market for biomass producers is not working because it's difficult to process the whole supply chain, but biomass has the most potential among renewables in the Czech Republic, says Novak.

The European Commission estimates the Czech Republic's mid term (2010-2020) bioenergy potential to be around 6.5TWh for electricity from solid biomass, and slightly more than 2 TWh for electricity from biogas. Onshore wind power has a large potential as well (graph, click to enlarge):
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Investment into new costly technology for carbon capture and storage (CCS) is also seen adding to CEZ's cost base. Eva Novakova, CEZ's spokeswoman, says the company has previously estimated that the cost of producing electricity from plants equipped with this technology could rise between 35-81 percent. CEZ does not currently operate any units with carbon capture, but it is working on development projects for the technology and has said it is considering future construction of CO2 separation units.

The combination of more expensive carbon credits, higher renewables output and costlier anti-emissions technology could slow new investments into more capacity in the Czech Republic and the CEE region as a whole, analysts added.

A lack of new capacity and strong demand have been two of the main reasons behind the brisk growth in Czech power prices in recent years.

Graph: Mid term potential for renewables in the Czech Republic. Credit: European Commission, SEC(2004) 547, The share of renewable energy in the EU - Country Profiles
Overview of Renewable Energy Sources in the Enlarged European Union {COM(2004)366 final}.


Forbes: CEZ raises annual production from biomass in 2007 by 52 pct - February 4, 2008.

AFX: CEZ generation costs seen soaring under post-2013 EU emissions reforms - January 30, 2008.

CEZ: Utilization of renewable sources by CEZ Group is constantly growing [*.pdf] - November 2006.

European Commission: Czech Republic Renewables Country Page, at Energy.eu.

European Commission: The share of renewable energy in the EU - Country Profiles: Overview of Renewable Energy Sources in the Enlarged European Union [*.pdf] - SEC(2004) 547 Commission Staff Working Document {COM(2004)366 final}, Brussels, May 26, 2004

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Australian researchers develop process to produce stable bio-crude oil

Researchers from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia's national science agency, and Monash University, have developed a chemical process that turns abundant lignocellulosic biomass into a type of bio-crude oil more stable than any other produced so far. The bio-crude oil, also known as bio-oil, can be used to produce high value chemicals and biofuels, including both petrol and diesel replacement fuels. The breakthrough removes one of the major obstacles holding back the development of decentralised production concepts, as the stability of the oil is important in the logistical chain.

Bio-crude oil or bio-oil is a next-generation biofuel obtained from the fast pyrolysis of any type of biomass including waste. Fast pyrolysis is a process in which the organic materials are rapidly heated to 450 - 600 °C at atmospheric pressure in the absence of air. Under these conditions, organic vapours, pyrolysis gases and charcoal are produced. The vapours are condensed to bio-oil. Typically, 70-75 wt.% of the feedstock is converted into oil.

Pyrolysis offers the possibility of de-coupling (time, place and scale), easy handling of the liquids and a more consistent quality compared to any solid biomass. With fast pyrolysis a clean liquid - bio-crude - is produced as an intermediate for a wide variety of applications. One of the main obstabcles to this de-coupling, has been the chemical instability of the bio-oil. This implies logistical chains must be optimised to allow fast processing of the bio-crude into refined products.

Dr Steven Loffler of CSIRO Forest Biosciences says his team made changes to the chemical process, which allowed it to create a concentrated bio-crude which is much more stable than that achieved elsewhere in the world. This makes it practical and economical to produce bio-crude in local areas for transport to a central refinery, overcoming the high costs and greenhouse gas emissions otherwise involved in transporting bulky green wastes over long distances (previous post, here and here).
Our process creates a stable oil that can then be tankered to the biorefinery. - Dr Steven Loffler, Theme Leader CSIRO Forest Biosciences
The process uses low value waste such as forest thinnings, crop residues, waste paper and garden waste, significant amounts of which are currently dumped in landfill or burned. According to Dr Loffler, by using waste, the 'Furafuel' technology as it has been dubbed, overcomes the food versus fuel debate which surrounds biofuels generated from grains, corn and sugar.

The project forms part of CSIRO’s commitment to delivering cleaner energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by improving technologies for converting waste biomass to transport fuels:
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The plant wastes being targeted for conversion into biofuels contain chemicals known as lignocellulose, which is increasingly favoured around the world as a raw material for the next generation of bio-ethanol.

Lignocellulose is both renewable and potentially greenhouse gas neutral. It is predominantly found in trees and is made up of cellulose; lignin, a natural plastic; and hemicellulose.

CSIRO and Monash University will apply to patent the chemical processes underpinning the conversion of green wastes to bio-crude oil once final laboratory trials are completed.

The research to date is supported by funding from CSIRO’s Energy Transformed Flagship program, Monash University, Circa Group and Forest Wood Products Australia.

National Research Flagships CSIRO initiated the National Research Flagships to provide science-based solutions in response to Australia’s major research challenges and opportunities. The nine Flagships form multidisciplinary teams with industry and the research community to deliver impact and benefits for Australia.

Picture: forestry waste and wood as an abundant lignocellulosic feedstock for bio-crude oil, set to end the food versus fuel debate. Credit: CSIRO.

CSIRO: Bio-crude turns cheap waste into valuable fuel - February 4, 2008.

Biopact: Dynamotive demonstrates fast-pyrolysis plant in the presence of biofuel experts - September 18, 2007

Biopact: Dynamotive begins construction of modular fast-pyrolysis plant in Ontario - December 19, 2006

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EU, US, Brazil release report on biofuels specifications to expand trade

The governments of the United States, Brazil and the European Union (EU) — the world’s major producers of biofuels — have released an analysis of current biofuel specifications with the goal of facilitating expanded trade of these renewable energy sources. Spurred by increased market demands, this report was solicited by the U.S. and Brazilian governments and the European Commission (EC) on behalf of the EU, with the work conducted by an international group of fuel standards experts.

Biofuels — derived from biological materials such as plants, plant oils, animal fat and microbial byproducts — are gaining popularity worldwide as both energy producers and users seek ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, move away from dependence on fossil fuels and invigorate economies through increased use of agricultural products. As a result, biofuels are becoming an increasingly important commodity in the global marketplace.

One potential obstacle to achieving greater efficiency in the global biofuels market is confusion over differing—and sometimes conflicting — standards for characterizing the make-up and properties of biofuels. To clarify the current situation and identify potential roadblocks to improved compatibility, the U.S. and Brazilian governments and the EC convened a task force of experts from standards developing organizations (SDOs) to compare critical specifications in existing standards used globally (factors such as content, physical characteristics and contaminant levels that govern a fuel’s quality) for pure bioethanol and biodiesel, two key biofuels.

The "White Paper on Internationally Compatible Biofuels Standards" [*.pdf] they published identifies where key specifications in the standards are:
  • Specifications that are similar among all three regions and can be considered compatible
  • Specifications with differences that could be aligned in the short term (less than 12 months)
  • Specifications for which fundamental differences exist and are deemed irreconcilable
The White Paper was requested by the governments of the United States and Brazil and the EC, and was produced by the joint task force after a six-month review process that considered thousands of pages of technical documents produced by ASTM International, the Brazilian Technical Standards Association (Associação Brasileira de Normas Técnicas or ABNT) and the European Committee for Standardization (Comité Europeén de Normalisation or CEN). Standards developed by these three SDOs are currently being used in support of biofuels commodities trading between nations.

The experts found that these three sets of bioethanol and biodiesel standards, and the specifications they contain, share much common ground and, therefore, impose few impediments to biofuel trade. Nine of the16 ethanol specifications reviewed, the task force states, are “in alignment” and all but one of the remaining specifications could be aligned in the short term. For biodiesel, the report lists six specifications as compatible. It suggests that many of the remaining differences could be handled by blending various types of biodiesel to create an end product that meets regional specifications for fuel quality and emissions:
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In formal transmittal letters to representatives of the standards community, the U.S. and Brazilian governments and the EC on behalf of the EU applauded the efforts of the technical experts and encouraged the SDOs to consider the results of those efforts.

Recognizing that many of the issues relating to variations in specifications can be traced to different measurement procedures and methods, two leading metrology institutes—the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Brazil’s National Institute of Metrology, Standardization and Industrial Quality (Instituto Nacional de Metrologia, Normalização e Qualidade Industrial or INMETRO)—are collaborating on the development of joint measurement standards for bioethanol and biodiesel to complement the efforts of the SDOs. Initial efforts focus on creating certified reference materials to support development and testing of bioethanol and biodiesel, and analytical measurement methods for source identification (to determine if a fuel comes from a renewable or non-renewable source and the source of origin of biodiesel, e.g., soy, palm oil, animal fat, etc.) by the end of 2008.

The United States, Brazil and the EU are all members of the International Biofuels Forum (IBF) and will continue to engage other IBF governments in future work. The named SDOs will also seek to involve their counterparts in the other IBF member countries—China, India and South Africa—in the effort to make biofuels standards compatible worldwide.

Brazil, the world’s biggest exporter of ethanol, already requires up to a 25 percent blend of ethanol with all gasoline that is sold. The EU has established a bioethanol blend mandate for its member states of 5.75 percent by 2010, and at least 10 percent of all vehicle fuels by 2020. In the United States, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 sets a 7.5 billion gallon goal for national biofuel consumption (usually ethanol) by 2012.


National Institute of Standards and Technology: White Paper on Internationally Compatible Biofuels Standards [*.pdf] - February 2008.

National Institute of Standards and Technology: Fact Sheet [*.pdf] - February 2008.

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Sunday, February 03, 2008

A quick look at heating with biomass in the EU

Euronews has a small presentation about the different scales at which Europe is heating with biomass. The document shows a large operation to heat part of an entire city, in this case Vilnius, via a municipal heating system based on biomass. The decision to use the carbon-neutral fuel was made for economic reasons as much as for ecological ones, because the fuel has become competitive. Moving to France and to home heating we arrive at pellet and wood chip heating with small, portable modules that are entirely automated. Finally, around Ljubljana in Slovenia, farmers survive because of the new bioenergy opportunities; without this emerging market, which can bring up to 50 per cent of new income to farmers, they would not make it.

The presented projects are part of the Intelligent Energy Europe program. This program allows researchers and companies from different EU countries to design specific applications for bioenergy, and allows them to exchange best practises. Sub-projects, like BioHousing, zoom in on one specific type of technology that holds large market potential, in this case the development of standardized biomass heating modules for homes. The AgriForEnergy project, headed by Slovenia's forestry service, helps farmers understand the new bioenergy market and find opportunities. Five Eures brings together EU countries to study large scale heating with biomass at the level of entire cities.

Biomass is by far the largest source of renewable energy in the EU today. According to Eurobserver, bioenergy's share of the EU's primary renewable energy has reached more than 66% (2005) compared with that of hydropower (22.2%), wind (5.5%), geothermal (5.5%) and solar (0.7%).

This large difference is mainly due to the versatility and competitiveness of biomass. The "sleeping giant", as the resource is often called, can be used both for the production of electricity, heat, and combined heat and power (and cooling - socalled 'polygeneration'). Of course, it can be transformed into liquid biofuels for transport, as well as in a large number of bio-products - from biopolymers to renewable platform chemicals.

Another major advantage of biomass is the fact that it can be used in most existing energy infrastructures. As a solid biofuel in coal plants, which can first co-fire with coal, then switch to full biomass power with minor adaptations, or as liquid biofuels in fuel infrastructutes for transport; green gas (synthetic gas upgraded to natural gas quality) and biomethane can be fed into the natural gas network (previous post).

The fact that biomass is solar energy stored by plants that grow their own storage medium (lignocellulose) makes it important for baseload applications. Intermittent renewable energy sources like wind or solar would depend on fossil fuels to provide baseloads, but biomass can now take over this role. Coupling bioenergy to other renewables, allows for the design of entirely non-fossil, green energy systems (previous post on a test project in Germany that couples biogas to wind and solar).

But the heating market remains the most easy target for biomass. Burning wood in new, dedicated biomass boilers is both more economic, climate friendly and efficient than heating with fossil heating oil, electricity or natural gas. The economic argument explains the growing success of pellet heating systems and district heating, especially in the leading green EU countries, like Sweden, France and Austria (in that latter country, biomass for home heating is taking the market by storm - previous post):
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For a country like the UK - of all large EU member states performing worst on renewables - biomass would be the most obvious candidate allowing it to reach its renewable targets (set at 15% by 2020) with some ease. But instead of signalling a major push towards renewables, the government recently gave the signal first that it would be investing in nuclear energy again. However, nuclear only delivers electricity, which is not the same as energy.

Greenpeace UK rightly says the lion’s share of Great Britain's energy demand is for heat and transport. Although nuclear power currently accounts for about a fifth of UK electricity generation, that is less than 4% of total energy demand The often repeated argument that 'nuclear electricity improves security of gas or oil supply' is elegantly debunked. 86% of the UK's oil and gas consumption is for purposes other than producing electricity. Most of the gas used is for heating and hot water. Virtually all oil is used for transport and heat.

In this context, nuclear power – which can only generate electricity and no heat-to-market – is irrelevant indeed. Solar heating and biomass heating should get priority instead. That is where the renewable energy gains can be made most swiftly and economically.

To stick with the UK, the country's Biomass Strategy (previous post) indicates that by expanding existing biomass supplies the potential future biomass resource makes up a total of approximately 96.2 TWh (8.3 Mtoe), that is, more than 20% of current residential primary energy consumption. As biomass trade is growing, the country can easily import green fuels from countries with cheap and abundant supplies, in particular Scandinavia and North America.


Euronews: Burning the wood you can't see for the trees - January 31, 2008.

European Commission: Intelligent Energy Europe.

EU BioHousing Project.

EU AgriForEnergy project.

All (renewable) energy statistics for Europe can be found at Energy.eu.

Greenpeace UK: Mind the gap - January 10, 2008.

Biopact: Biomass pellets revolution in Austria: 46% less costly than heating oil; most efficient way for households to reduce carbon footprint - October 06, 2007

Biopact: UK outlines Biomass Strategy: large potential for bioenergy, bioproducts - May 28, 2007

Biopact: Germany is doing it: reliable distributed power based on 100% renewables - December 29, 2007.

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