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    The 2008 edition of Bioenergy World Europe will take place in Verona, Italy, from 7 to 10 February. Gathering a broad range of international exhibitors covering gaseous, liquid and solid bioenergy, the event aims to offer participants the possibility of developing their business through meetings with professionals, thematic study tours and an international forum focusing on market and regulatory issues, as well as industry expertise. Bioenergy World Europe - February 5, 2007.

    The World GTL Summit will take place between 12 – 14th May 2008 in London. Key topics to be discussed include: the true value of Gas-to-Liquids (GTL) projects, well-to-wheels analyses of the GTL value chain; construction, logistics and procurement challenges; the future for small-scale Fischer-Tropsch (FT) projects; Technology, economics, politics and logistics of Coal-to-Liquids (CTL); latest Biomass-to-Liquids (BTL) commercialisation initiatives. CWC Exhibitions - February 4, 2007.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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